Peter K. Butler, petitioner, Appellant,
City of Saint Paul, et al., Respondents.
County District Court File No. 62-CV-17-4294
Terence G. O'Brien, Jr., Law Office of Terence G.
O'Brien, PLLC, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)
Lyndsey M. Olson, St. Paul City Attorney, Anthony G. Edwards,
Assistant City Attorney, St. Paul, Minnesota (for
Considered and decided by Cleary, Chief Judge; Bjorkman,
Judge; and Rodenberg, Judge.
Election officials of a home rule charter city do not err in
relying on the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS) to
determine whether a petition to amend the charter of a home
rule city contains the requisite number of signatures of
registered voters in a city.
a petition under Minn. Stat. § 204B.44 (2018) alleges
that election officials committed an error, omission, or
wrongful act in determining that a petition to amend a home
rule city charter under Minn. Stat. § 410.12 (2018) is
inadequate for failure to contain the requisite number of
signatures of registered voters, the petitioner bears the
burden of proving the existence of an error, omission, or
order to create a genuine issue of material fact concerning
an error, omission, or wrongful act by election officials who
rely on the SVRS, the petitioner must present the district
court with admissible evidence contrary to the relied-on SVRS
Peter K. Butler challenges the district court's grant of
summary judgment dismissing his petition under Minn. Stat.
§ 204B.44 to correct alleged errors, omissions, or
wrongful acts by respondent City of St. Paul in rejecting
appellant's petition under Minn. Stat. § 410.12 to
amend the St. Paul City Charter. Because appellant failed to
provide the district court with affirmative and admissible
evidence that St. Paul election officials erred in rejecting
certain signatures on the petition based on the SVRS, we
and others gathered signatures in support of a petition to
amend section 7.01 of the St. Paul City Charter. The proposed
amendment sought to change the home-rule-charter provision
that city elections shall occur in odd-numbered years to
require city elections to occur in even-numbered years. In
order for the charter-amendment proposal to be placed on the
ballot, a "petition of voters equal in number to five
percent of the total votes cast at the last previous state
general election in the city" was required. Minn. Stat.
§ 410.12, subd. 1. The 2016 state general election was
the relevant general election. The parties agree that, to
meet the five-percent statutory threshold, 7, 011 signatures
were needed on the petition. On July 7, 2017, appellant
submitted his petition with 7, 656 signatures to the Ramsey
County Elections Office (elections office), St. Paul's
appointed agent for reviewing and verifying such petitions.
elections office inspected the 786-page petition and used the
SVRS, which contains information for every registered
Minnesota voter, to determine the petition's sufficiency.
Seven days after appellant submitted the petition, a Ramsey
County Elections Specialist emailed appellant a notice of
insufficiency. The notice explained that the petition
contained 5, 866 valid signatures and that appellant had ten
days to cure the insufficiency. Appellant requested that the
elections office provide him with further details. The
elections office promptly responded by providing the
certification of petition insufficiency and invited appellant
to submit any further questions. The elections office
explained that the petition was insufficient because 1, 529
people who signed the petition as residents of St. Paul were
not registered to vote in St. Paul, and 231 signers did not
provide all of the required information. The elections
office invalidated 49 signatures for other reasons.
did not submit additional signatures or information within
the ten-day time period. Instead, he filed a petition in the
district court, under Minn. Stat. § 204B.44, to correct
errors or omissions, alleging that the notice of
insufficiency and certificate of insufficiency failed to
comply with Minn. Stat. § 410.12, subd. 3.
Stat. § 204B.44 allows for the filing of a petition with
the district court for the correction of errors, omissions,
or wrongful acts made by "any election judge, municipal
clerk, county auditor, canvassing board or any of its
members, the secretary of state, or any other individual
charged with any duty concerning an election." Minn.
Stat. § 204B.44(a)(4). The petition must describe the
error, omission, or wrongful act, and the correction sought
by the petitioner, and "shall be filed with . . . any
judge of the district court in that county in the case of an
election for county, municipal or school district
office." Id. (b). Appellant argued to the
district court that the notice of insufficiency did not
comply with the statute because it did not set forth any
particulars regarding the defects. He claimed that, until he
was informed of the exact defects, he was unable to obtain
additional signatures that would not be determined to be
moved the district court for an immediate hearing under Minn.
Stat. § 204B.44 to compel the elections office to comply
with Minn. Stat. § 410.12, subd. 3, or to show cause as
to why the requested relief should not be granted. In the
alternative, appellant requested that the district court
direct the elections office to certify his section 410.12
petition as sufficient so that the proposal would appear on
the November 7, 2017 general election ballot, or strike the
certification of insufficiency and order the elections office
to individually reexamine all signatures. The district court
directed the elections office to correct the claimed error or
show cause for not doing so.
also moved for summary judgment declaring his section 410.12
petition sufficient. Appellant stated by affidavit that he
had purchased an official registered-voter list from the
secretary of state and compared that list with the signatures
the elections office determined were invalid. He claimed that,
in multiple instances, the elections office invalidated the
signatures of individuals who were listed on St. Paul
voter-registration lists when they signed the petition.
moved to dismiss appellant's petition, arguing that the
elections office was not required to explain why each
signature was rejected and that appellant failed to establish
that respondents had committed any error. The elections
office supplied the district court with information that it
reviewed the petition a second time, identified each rejected
signature, and produced a spreadsheet including the reasons
it rejected certain signatures. The elections office again
used the SVRS to determine the sufficiency of the petition.
The elections office adjusted its determination of the number
of valid signatures to 5, 951 (up from 5, 866) and the
corresponding number of invalid signatures to 1, 712.
hearing in August 2017 on these competing motions, the
parties agreed that additional discovery was necessary
concerning whether respondents committed an error, omission,
or wrongful act when it rejected the signatures. The parties
agreed to stay the proceedings and hold over the
voter-circulated petition for submission of a ballot question
at the 2018 general election.
discovery, the district court revisited the parties'
motions concerning whether respondents committed an error,
omission, or wrongful act in the issuance of the notice and
certification of insufficiency. The district court determined
that election officials "fully complied with their
statutory duties set forth in Minn. Stat. § 410.12 with
respect to the delivery of the certificate to the required
entity, the required contents of that certificate, and
delivery of notice of insufficiency to [appellant]" and
therefore dismissed the petition in part. The district court
concluded that the petition "does not state a claim that
respondents committed an error, omission, or wrongful act
with respect to the issuance of the certificate or
the SVRS, respondents later reviewed the petition for a third
time and for a fourth and final time, after which they
reported that 5, 956 signatures were valid and 1, 700
signatures were invalid. The parties later stipulated that at
least 5, 957 signatures were valid. The home-rule-charter
measure was not put on the November 2017 ballot, and
respondents moved for summary judgment in December 2017.
February 2018 hearing on the summary-judgment motions, the
district court concluded that appellant "produced
some record evidence that 980 of the rejected
signatories were residents of St. Paul and registered voters
eligible to vote at the time they signed the petition or at
the time of submission of the petition to respondents."
The district court determined that, even if those 980
signatures were added to the 5, 957 valid signatures, the
petition would remain 74 signatures short of the statutory
requirement. Appellant identified an additional 147
signatures that he claimed were improperly rejected.
Considering those additional signatures, the district court
determined that appellant "failed to meet his burden to
identify any error, omission or wrongful act in the rejection
of the remaining 147 signatures [appellant] now identifies as
erroneously rejected." The district court found no error
in the election office's validation process, because the