Brian Begin, State Chair of the Green Party of Minnesota, as an individual and as a registered voter; and the Green Party of Minnesota, an association of individuals of a registered political party, Petitioners,
Mark Ritchie, in his official capacity as Secretary of State of the State of Minnesota, and Lori Swanson, in her official capacity as Attorney General of the State of Minnesota, Respondents.
Original Jurisdiction, Office of Appellate Courts
Andrew J. Dawkins, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and
David Schultz, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for petitioners.
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Nathan J. Hartshorn, Assistant Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondents.
A claim of error in decertifying a party's political status does not fall within the scope of Minn. Stat. § 204B.44 (2012).
Considered and decided by the court without oral argument.
On June 6, 2013, the Green Party of Minnesota and its chair, Brian Begin, filed a petition pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 204B.44 (2012), asserting that Respondent Secretary of State Mark Ritchie erred in decertifying the Green Party as a minor political party. Petitioners seek an order from this court directing Secretary Ritchie to correct his alleged error by restoring the Green Party's minor political party status as of January 1, 2013. Because we conclude that the Green Party's claims fall outside the scope of Minn. Stat. § 204B.44, we dismiss the petition.
We begin with a discussion of the statutes governing political party status in Minnesota. Political parties in Minnesota are designated as either "major" or "minor" based generally on the votes the party's candidates received in recent elections and the candidates presented by the party for elective office. Minn. Stat. § 200.02, subds. 7(a)-(b), 23 (2012). A minor political party must comply with additional requirements to fulfill the statutory definition. Specifically, a minor political party must certify to the Secretary of State by December 31 in the year of a statewide general election that it has held a party convention, adopted a state constitution, designated a state party chair, and met the remaining election-related requirements. Minn. Stat. § 200.02, subd. 23(a).
Once a political party attains major or minor status, it retains that status for "at least two state general elections" even if the party "fails to present a candidate who receives the number and percentage of votes" required for major or minor party status. See Minn. Stat. § 200.02, subds. 7(d), 23(c). But if a minor party's candidates "fail to receive the number and percentage of votes required" at "each of two consecutive state general elections, " the party loses minor party status. Minn. Stat. § 200.02, subd. 23(d).
Status as a qualified major or minor political party provides the opportunity to participate in certain tax-generated subsidy programs administered by the Department of Revenue and the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. See Minn. Stat. § 10A.31 (2012); Minn. Stat. § 290.06, subd. 23 (2012). The taxpayer contributions to these programs are distributed to political parties with either "major" or "minor" status as defined by Minn. Stat. § 200.02. See Minn. Stat. § 10A.01, subds. 23, 25 (2012). The Secretary of State must "notify each major and minor political party by the first Monday in January of each odd-numbered year of the conditions necessary . . . to participate in" these programs. Minn. Stat. § 10A.31, subd. 3a(c). Following certification of the results of a general election and each year on July 1, the Secretary of State must notify political parties, the Revenue Department, and the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board "of the political parties that qualify" for participation in these programs. Minn. Stat. § 10A.31, subd. 3a(d).
With this statutory overview in mind, we now turn to the facts presented by this petition, which are undisputed. In the 2010 election, the Green Party's candidate for State Auditor received over 1 percent of the total votes cast, thus satisfying one of the requirements for minor political party status. Minn. Stat. § 200.02, subd. 23(b) (stating "the political party must" present a candidate for "state auditor" who receives "votes in each county that in the aggregate equal at least one percent of the total number of . . . vote[s] in the election"). After the 2010 general election, the Green Party submitted a timely certification to the Secretary of State, confirming that in addition to the vote count achieved by its State Auditor candidate, it had: (a) elected a Party Chair; (b) adopted a State Party Constitution; and (c) held membership meetings. See Minn. Stat. § 200.02, subd. 23(a). Thereafter, the Secretary of State notified the Green Party, the Revenue Department, and the Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board that the Green Party "qualif[ied] as [a] minor political part[y] as defined in Minnesota Statutes section 200.02, [s]ubd. 23."
In 2012, the Green Party's presidential candidate received less than 1 percent of the general election votes in Minnesota for that office. Despite a reminder from the Secretary of State about the conditions necessary to retain minor party status and the year-end certification deadline, the Green Party did not "file with the secretary of state [by] December 31 . . . a certification that [it] ha[d] met" the statutory requirements for minor political party status. Minn. Stat. § 200.02, subd. 23(a). It did not do so, the Green Party explains, because it assumed that it retained minor party status for at least two state general election cycles, regardless of the election results; because communications from the Secretary of State before the 2012 ...