Does Ballot Ruling Open New Door For Parties?

Some Minnesota politicians wonder if a Minnesota Supreme Court ballot ruling opens the door for more last-minute changes.

The Republican candidate in a Duluth legislative race argued that if the high court approved swapping names it would allow parties to do that whenever they felt it was to their political advantage. Days after Travis Silvers urged the court to ban the swap, justices allowed it.

In his official comments for a Minnesota Supreme Court case that eventually ended up removing Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, from the Nov. 6 ballot, Silvers’ attorney wrote that Democrats wanted to replace the incumbent to have a better chance of winning.

“At the heart of this petition is the DFL’s desire to avoid further entanglements with the actions of Rep. Gauthier and to limit the risk of losing an election,” attorney Sara Van Norman wrote. “If the DFL’s position is adopted, various candidates for various offices will now be able to be substituted by their party throughout the election as they commit errors of judgment and faux pas on the campaign trail.”

In paperwork filed before the court decision, Van Norman wrote that Democrats “essentially argue that they have a right to change candidates throughout the election cycle as they see fit.”

Democrats told justices they just wanted to make the election fair for voters by including the party’s endorsed candidate.

State law gave candidates until June 7 to withdraw from this year’s election. In August, the Duluth News Tribune reported Gauthier had oral sex with a 17-year-old male, setting in motion a series of events that ended with the court ordering that Gauthier’s name be taken off the ballot, replaced by Erik Simonson.

The ruling written by Chief Justice Lori S. Gildea did not include an explanation about why the court made the decision; she said that information will come later.

In the wake of the order, a write-in candidate in the same race, Jay Fosle, says his name also should be printed on the ballot. While Democrats revoked Gauthier’s endorsement and voted to back Simonson, no party has endorsed Fosle.

Adding salt to the GOP wound is the fact that the high court majority was appointed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Republican Party Chairman Pat Shortridge brought out the argument that his party often uses against Democrat-appointed judges: “This is yet another case of judicial overreach and making things up out of thin air where no authority exists in statute.”