Two Washington-based Democratic groups are suing to overturn a Minnesota law they say discriminates against voters who are older, don’t speak English or have disabilities.
The law being challenged makes it a felony for any individual to assist more than three registered voters in filling out their ballot or submitting an absentee ballot. The plaintiff groups are the political arms of U.S. House and Senate Democrats, who have been mounting legal challenges to state laws around the country that put limits on voting.
“We should be working to increase access to the ballot, not restrict it,” Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said in a statement released by the group. “We’ll continue fighting voter suppression laws across the country that discriminate against Americans trying to make their voices heard in our democracy.”
The DCCC and its counterpart, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), say in the lawsuit filed Thursday in Ramsey County District Court that the law is unconstitutional and will interfere with organized efforts to get out the vote for Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate and House next year.
The provisions in law “directly harm … efforts in educating, mobilizing, assisting and turning out voters in Minnesota by prohibiting the acts of individuals and organizations that want to assist voters in completing and submitting their ballot,” the lawsuit reads. They say Minnesota’s law is in direct contradiction with federal law requiring that “any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write may be given assistance by a person of the voter’s choice.”
Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat and the lawsuit’s defendant, spoke in favor of repealing the law in a House hearing last year. He predicted that failure by the Legislature to do so would likely result in a lawsuit. “I think we can do this the easy way or we can do it the hard way,” he told a House panel at the time.
The Minnesota House, controlled by Democrats, passed a bill soon after to scrap the voter assistance ban. The Republican-controlled Senate did not act on it. Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer of Big Lake, chairwoman of the Senate committee that covers election law, did not return a call seeking comment on the legal challenge.
A spokesman said Thursday that the Secretary of State’s Office would not comment on the new litigation. In his testimony last year, Simon predicted Minnesota would be on the “losing side of any legal challenge under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
The House bill was sponsored by Rep. Samantha Vang, DFL-St. Paul. Critics of the law as it stands particularly cite the experience of older Hmong immigrants who don’t speak English and have difficulty voting unassisted. In 2017, mayoral candidate and St. Paul City Council Member Dai Thao was charged with violating another provision of the same law, which says a candidate can’t assist a voter with their ballot if the candidate is on that ballot.
A judge later found Thao not guilty.
Andy Cilek of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, which has fought with Simon in court over election law issues, said those raised by the new lawsuit were complex and that he didn’t have an immediate comment.
The DCCC and DSCC are making what they describe as “an eight-figure commitment to fighting voter suppression in battleground states across the country.” The groups prevailed last week in a suit that struck down a South Carolina law requiring voters to submit their full Social Security number in order to register to vote.
The group said Arkansas is the only other U.S. state with limits on individual voter assistance.
Patrick Condon • 612-655-7312