What’s the big deal?

Election integrity is the big deal and the city of Minnetrista took an enormous stride toward that end last Thursday at a specially called council meeting to discuss the election process in Minnetrista and the role of election judges and absentee ballot board members.

State law requires that an absentee ballot board be established by the city council that is comprised of election judges, chosen from the major party lists, to accept/reject absentee ballots. It was discovered that in the past Minnetrista had not been appointing an absentee ballot board and had, instead, been using city staff to perform these duties.

Thanks to the Minnesota Voters Alliance filing a petition against the city of Minneapolis for doing virtually the same thing (Minnetrista differs slightly in that it only handles walk-in absentee voting presently) and pointing out applicable statutes showing cities magnifying glass2are required to use election judges, chosen from party lists to establish the ballot board, Minnetrista was given the opportunity to scrutinize their past practices and to comply with the law.

As a result, for the first time, the Minnetrista city council has established an absentee ballot board comprised of election judges chosen from the party lists and will not be using city staff to accept/reject absentee ballots.

So why is this such a big deal? Because local government staff, whether from a city or county (both process absentee ballots), care very much about who will serve on their city council, board of county commissioners, state legislature, on up to the Governor and POTUS. They work closely with these elected representatives and develop relationships with them over time. Those relationships, good or bad, create an inherent conflict of interest in the performance of certain election duties that can impact election outcomes. No one would argue they don’t. That’s precisely why our laws require elections judges from different major political parties to be present when absentee ballots are accepted & rejected.

Unfortunately the practice of using local government staff to perform election duties meant for election judges is widespread throughout the state of Minnesota and likely the country.

Other cities’ and counties’ elected representatives need to ask questions of their election administrators to make sure they are complying with the law. There’s still time to get it right before the general election. And that’s a big deal.


Minnetrista to get $580K for COVID expenses?

Well, I think Minnetrista can rescind it’s emergency order now. Gov. Tim Walz announced last week that he will distribute $841 million in federal funds to cities, counties, and townships for coronavirus-related expenses. The city of Minnetrista is on the Minnesota Department of Revenue’s list to receive $579,517 of those funds and there is no requirement for a city to have an emergency order to receive them.

When I saw the amount I thought: How in the world would Minnetrista spend that much on COVID related anything? Then I remembered the advocacy of mail-in balloting by the National League of Cities and their state chapter the League of Minnesota Cities I wrote about here.

Do you think any of this money will be used to advocate for mail-in balloting and additional staff for ballot processing under the guise it’s COVID related?

Those vulnerable to COVID-19 should know that any resident can already request an absentee ballot or go to city hall to vote without crowds before the election. Mass/universal mail-in balloting opens the door to election fraud because it doesn’t provide the security in place at polling locations with supervision by election judges from different parties. No one can dispute there are plenty of incentives to manipulate election outcomes and we should make fraud more difficult, not easier.

dollarsCities’ coronavirus relief funds must be spent by November 15 (isn’t that an interesting date?) or returned. There is no requirement to submit expenses for reimbursement as had previously been discussed. There is also no requirement for a city to have an emergency order in place to receive these funds. All a city needs to do is certify that they will follow state and federal guidelines for use of the relief funds and fill out a Coronavirus Relief Fund Certification Form to get the check.

Here are the official guidelines:

1. The distributed funds will be used by the local government only to cover those costs that:

a. Are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (“necessary expenditures”), as described and defined by official federal guidance on section 601(d) of the Social Security Act, as added by section 5001 of Public Law 116-136 (“federal guidance”);

b. Were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020, for the local government; and

c. Were or will be incurred during the period that begins on March 1, 2020, and ends on December 1, 2020. A cost is incurred when the local government has expended funds to cover the cost.

2. The funds distributed pursuant to this certification will not be used by the local government in any manner contrary to federal guidance. This includes, but is not limited to:

a. As a revenue replacement for lower than expected tax or other revenue collections; and

b. For expenditures for which the local government has received other emergency COVID-19 supplemental funding for that same expense, regardless of the funding source.

Minnetrista has been keeping track of it’s COVID-19 related expenses and at our last council meeting had only identified a few hundred dollars, mostly from cleaning supplies, gloves and hand sanitizer. There is also plexiglass being installed in the lobby to protect administrative staff. We’ll have to wait to see if Minnetrista files for its $580K coronavirus relief check but I think it’s a pretty safe bet. It’s also a safe bet it will be spent on the election.