Trump’s name will be the only one on Republican primary ballot, MN Supreme Court rules
Jan. 09, 2020
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Thursday that President Donald Trump should be the only name to appear on the Republican ballot in the state’s presidential primary.
The seven justices heard oral arguments Thursday morning on both sides of the question, which stems from a lawsuit filed by a Republican candidate and a local man who wants to vote for him — but the Republican Party of Minnesota refused to authorize any names other than Donald J. Trump.
Whether the party has the power to do that for a taxpayer-funded primary — or whether the secretary of state could be compelled to reject such a maneuver — was among the core questions the court faced in the first test of a new state law.
Had the court instead declared the Trump-only ballot invalid, it would have thrown a late wrench into the primary process, which is new to Minnesota after decades of relying on caucuses to determine how much support candidates have at national party conventions.
Early absentee voting in the Republican and Democratic primaries begins Jan. 17, and some ballots might already be printed. The actual primary election day is March 3, also known as “Super Tuesday” because of the number of states holding primaries and caucuses.
At various times during Thursday’s arguments, many of the justices expressed skepticism that the law and state and federal constitutions were being violated, noting that previous court cases in other states with similar processes have tended to allow political parties to have discretion in vetting potential candidates for the ballot.
Associate Justice David Lillehaug noted that unlike general elections, the party primaries don’t determine who wins elected office, but rather are part of a political process that culminates with party conventions in which the parties make their own rules.
Associate Justice Paul Thissen, who served in the Legislature that passed the primary law, was among several justices who questioned whether should the court reject the Trump-only ballot, it might be trampling the constitutional rights of the political parties to nominate their own candidates.
Trump isn’t the only candidate seeking the Republican nomination for president. But in Minnesota and a number of other states, state parties have shut all other candidates off the ballot. Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, a perennial candidate for various offices whose name will appear in other states, joined with James Martin, a voter from Lake Elmo who wants to vote for De La Fuente, in the petition that the Supreme Court heard Thursday.
The new state law that outlines the presidential primary process appears to give wide discretion to each major party as to which names appear on the ballot. In essence, the party chair can dictate the ballot, according to how it’s played out so far.
According to papers submitted by Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan, in addition to Trump’s name, the party’s primary ballot will offer a spot for write-in candidates. However, Carnahan has yet to submit papers that would require election officials to actually allocate write-in votes to specific candidates.
In other words, it seems impossible for Trump to lose the primary as long as he gets one vote.
Neither Carnahan nor a party spokeswoman offered comment Thursday, and the party never formally weighed in on the lawsuit — a silence noted by many of the justices.
In a statement when she submitted the Trump-only ballot papers, Carnahan said , in part, “my job as chairwoman is to make sure we deliver our 10 electoral votes” to Trump in 2020.
DEMS OFFER 15 CANDIDATES
By contrast, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has a ballot with 15 names on it, as well as a spot for “uncommitted” — a vote for a national convention delegate free to support any candidate.
Still, that doesn’t include everyone seeking the Democratic nomination either. The DFL disqualified three little-known candidates for not properly following its internal set of requirements.
In fact, the DFL Party filed a brief with the court that essentially defended the Republican Party’s actions .
‘MOCKERY OF DEMOCRACY’
Attorney Erik Kaardal, who represents De La Fuente and Martin, described the Trump-only ballot as a “mockery for Democracy” and argued that the end result violates Martin’s constitutional right to vote for his candidate and have that vote counted.
Either the law is unconstitutional or the secretary of state’s office has misinterpreted, he said, or both.
Kaardal said that the estimated $12 million in taxpayer funds that will be spent on the primary — as opposed to the party-financed caucus system that is being replaced — is a game-changer.
‘PREZ PRIMARIES ARE DIFFERENT’
But Nathan Hartshorn, an attorney with the Minnesota attorney general’s office representing the secretary of state, told the justices that there is no precedence for Kaardal’s reasoning.
“it’s a political decision,” Hartshorn said of the GOP’s decision to only allow Trump on the ballot. “I don’t think there’s a dispute about that.”
But, he argued, that’s the GOP’s right — and by design. The standards that apply to general elections and nonpartisan primaries have never been imposed on presidential nominating primaries, which allow for the fact that parties and their members, not courts, ultimately decide which candidates earn their nominations.
“Presidential primaries are different,” he said.
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