St. Paul City Council Member Dai Thao was barred from allegedly helping a voter at the polls last November, and wrongly interpreted federal, state and case laws in arguing his innocence, a prosecutor argued in a recent court filing.
The court should deny Thao’s request for a dismissal of the charges against him, and should convict him at trial, Chief Deputy Dakota County Attorney Phil Prokopowicz wrote in a motion filed Monday.
“It cannot be denied that a candidate for elected office has a unique interest in the outcome of an election that differs from that of other citizens,” Prokopowicz wrote.
“… Such an interest creates partisan incentives, actual or perceived, for candidates to engage in misconduct. Minnesota election laws which regulate the actions of candidates for elected office in a polling place on the day of election are reasonable acts that serve to protect the right to vote and the overall integrity of an election.”
Thao, 43, was charged in Ramsey County District Court earlier this year with a gross misdemeanor count of unlawfully marking a ballot, and two petty misdemeanor counts — misconduct in and near polling places and unlawfully assisting a voter. The Dakota County Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the case to avoid a conflict of interest.
Authorities allege that on Nov. 6, Thao approached the woman and others outside of her home, identified himself as “Mr. Xiong” and offered to help them vote. He was running for mayor of St. Paul at the time.
Thao’s attorney, Joe Dixon, filed a motion last month asking a judge to dismiss the counts, or for an acquittal. Dixon argued that prosecutors failed to prove their case and that the charges violate federal law, including the Voting Rights Act (VRA), and the U.S. Constitution.
Prokopowicz argued that states have federal authority to regulate their own elections. Minnesota law, he added, does not interfere with federal voting protections, including the VRA, which allows voters to seek assistance at the polls.
Dixon had argued that Thao, who is Hmong, drove a 63-year-old Hmong woman who did not speak English to an early voting site, interpreted for her and helped her vote. Dixon also argued that Thao wasn’t aware that his actions were prohibited.
Thao’s alleged ignorance does not shield him from prosecution, Prokopowicz said.
Thao waived a jury trial. His pretrial hearing is scheduled for Aug. 13.
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