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Republican Party of Minnesota v. O'Connor

October 27, 2004

REPUBLICAN PARTY OF MINNESOTA, ET AL., PETITIONERS,
v.
PATRICK H. O'CONNOR, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS HENNEPIN COUNTY AUDITOR, RESPONDENT, DOROTHY MCCLUNG, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS RAMSEY COUNTY AUDITOR, RESPONDENT, DANIEL J. HALL, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS OLMSTED COUNTY AUDITOR, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kathleen A. Blatz Chief Justice

ORDER

On October 15, 2004, petitioners filed a petition pursuant to Minn. Stat. 204B.44 (2002), requesting the court to:

(1) declare that the names and party affiliations of election judges are public data under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, and compel respondents (and other similarly situated government authorities) to immediately release that information; and

(2) pursuant to Minn. Stat. 204B.19 (2002), declare that respondents (and other similarly situated government authorities) must take all necessary steps to ensure that no more than half of the election judges in any one precinct are affiliated with the same political party.

Minnesota Statutes 204B.44 provides that in the case of an election for state or federal office, an individual may file with this court a petition to correct certain "errors, omissions or wrongful acts which have occurred or are about to occur." Included are errors and omissions of individuals, specifically including county auditors and municipal clerks, "charged with any duty concerning an election." Minn. Stat. 204B.44(d) (2002).

Minnesota Statutes 204B.19, subdivision 5 (2002) provides:

No more than half of the election judges in a precinct may be members of the same major political party unless the election board*fn1 consists of an odd number of election judges, in which case the number of election judges who are members of the same major political party may be one more than half the number of election judges in that precinct.

(Footnote added.) Petitioners argue, and we agree, that this statute prescribes a "duty concerning an election" under section 204B.44(d).

Although section 204B.19, subdivision 5 is silent as to who has the duty to carry out its mandate, it is clear that this responsibility lies with the officials who appoint election judges in a particular jurisdiction. Other duties prescribed by this statute are expressly stated to be those of the "appointing authority." Minn. Stat. 204B.19, subds. 1, 4 (2002). Minnesota Statutes 204B.21, subdivision 2 (2002) provides that "[e]lection judges for precincts in a municipality shall be appointed by the governing body of the municipality," while election judges in precincts located in unorganized territory are appointed by the county board. This statute goes on to provide that appointments are "subject to the eligibility requirements and other qualifications established or authorized under section 204B.19." Minn. Stat. 204B.21, subd. 2. If additional election judges are required after all names listed by the major political parties have been exhausted, the appointing authority may appoint other judges, "subject to the same requirements and qualifications." Id. "The municipal clerk may assign election judges to fill vacancies as they occur." Minn. Stat. 204B.23 (2002).

Petitioners requested information on election judges in the Cities of St. Paul, Minneapolis and Rochester, which are all municipalities under the election laws. Minn. Stat. 200.02, subd. 9 (2002). In Minneapolis and Rochester, petitioners representatives dealt with the city clerks, not the county auditors. Respondents OConnor and Hall state that as county auditors they have no responsibility for the appointment or supervision of election judges in Minneapolis and Rochester, respectively. We conclude that respondents OConnor and Hall are not proper parties and dismiss the petition as to them.

Petitioners request for information on election judges appointed in St. Paul was answered by the Ramsey County Elections Division Manager. Respondent McClung states that she is the supervisor of the Elections Division, which performs election duties for the City of St. Paul pursuant to contract. See Minn. Stat. 383A.62 (2002) (authorizing St. Paul and Ramsey County by agreement to provide for merger of city and county election offices). Based on these representations, we conclude that respondent McClung is a proper party to this action as to the election judges appointed for the City of St. Paul.

Data Practices Claim

Under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), all personnel data that is not designated as "public" is private data. Minn. Stat. 13.43, subds. 2-4 (2002); Navarre v. South Washington County Schs., 652 N.W.2d 9, 22 (Minn. 2002). Personnel data is that which is collected because an individual is or was an employee of a government entity, including a political subdivision. Minn. Stat. 13.43, subd. 1 (Supp. 2003). Election judges are compensated for their services; the compensation for those serving in a municipality is fixed by the governing body of the city or town, and municipalities are responsible for paying their compensation. Minn. Stat. 204B.31, subd. 1(d); 204B.32, subd. 1(c) (2002). We conclude that for purposes of the MGDPA, election judges are employees, as that word is commonly understood, of political subdivisions. We further conclude that because the political party membership of election judges is not designated as public under the MGDPA, it is "private data on individuals" and not accessible to petitioners. Minn. Stat. 13.02, subd. 12; 13.43, subds. 2-4 (2002).*fn2

Petitioners argue that the statutory requirement for major political party balance in the appointment of election judges is intended to address serious issues of ballot integrity and transparency of the election process. Petitioners allege that without public ...


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