The Minnesota Supreme Court late today ordered that Rep. Kerry Gauthier’s name be replaced on Duluth-area ballots.
The order written by Chief Justice Lori S. Gildea said that Erik Simonson’s name should replace Gauthier’s.
The ruling grants a request filed by Simonson and the DFL Party when Gauthier announced he would end his re-election campaign after a rest-stop sex encounter with a 17-year-old male earlier this summer was revealed.
House District 7B Democrats revoked their earlier endorsement of Gauthier, replacing it with a Simonson endorsement. The state deadline for withdrawing from a race long since has passed, but Gildea ordered St. Louis County Auditor Don Dicklich to accept Gauthier’s withdrawal.
Dicklich’s office began to mail out absentee ballots Friday, as state law requires, with Gauthier’s name.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Dicklich filed paperwork with the high court saying they have no legal authority to change candidates on the ballot at this late date.
About 30,000 ballots with Gauthier’s name have already been printed, and 28 of those mailed to overseas voters, Dicklich said.
“We waited as long as we could,” he said. “I’m disappointed it took (the court) so long to come up with this ruling.”
Dicklich said the cost to print out new ballots and reprogram voting machines with Simonson’s name on it will cost taxpayers about $20,000 to $22,000.
He said he will try to get new ballots to those already sent previous ones, but said he’s not sure yet to do about voters who have gone to Duluth City Hall to vote absentee.
“We need to talk to the city about that,” he said.
Simonson, who had begun a write-in campaign, welcomed Tuesday’s ballot decision, saying, “It’s a good day.”
Simonson said it would have made no sense to issue ballots bearing Gauthier’s name as the DFL-endorsed candidate when he has officially dropped out of the race.
He said the amended ballots will better serve the public good because “it shows people the choice they actually have.”
Now that his name will appear on the ballot, Simonson said: “We’re going to shift our strategy. We can move away from education. It will give us more of an opportunity to focus on the issues.”
While memoranda were presented to the court, neither side requested oral arguments.
Gildea said she would follow up with a more detailed reasoning for the ruling, but issued the ruling quickly to keep the election process moving ahead.
“As we have said, our purpose in filing this petition was to ensure a fair election for the voters in District 7B,” DFL Chairman Ken Martin said. “We are glad to learn that the Minnesota Supreme Court agrees that Duluth voters should have a chance to choose between the endorsed candidates of the major parties — a choice that Minnesotans in every other district in the state will have on Election Day.”
Simonson will face Republican Travis Silvers, and Duluth City Councilor Jay Fosle, who is running a write-in campaign.
Duluth News Tribune staff writers Brandon Stahl and Peter Passi contributed to this report.