Two Minnesota senators were questioned about their residency by people who wanted to take them off the ballot.
The legal challengers claimed they were trying to defend rules in the state Constitution that ensure legislative candidates live in the district they want to represent. Both petitions to the Minnesota Supreme Court were linked — directly and indirectly — with Sens’ political opponents. Gene Dornink from Brownsdale and Torrey Youstrom of Alexandria suggest that there may be other motives.
What happens if a candidate is found to be in violation of the residency requirement?
Dornink challenge is thrown out
Dornink, Westrom are two of a few legislators whose houses were not in the districts they intended to represent following the 2020 Census.
Dornink and Westrom both stated that they moved into the newly drawn districts six months prior to the Nov. 8, election as required by Minnesota Constitution.
In a district in southern Minnesota that includes Albert Lea and Austin, Dornink was elected his first time in 2020. Instead of staying in Hayfield to face Republican Senator Carla Nelson and facing Dornink, Dornink announced that he would be moving to Brownsdale. Judy Olson, a Minnesota resident, filed a petition to the Minnesota Supreme Court claiming that Dornink hadn’t actually moved to Senate District 23 but was still living in Hayfield. , a man who was the campaign manager for Dornink’s primary opponent, provided much of the evidence.
Hanson ran to Dornink’s right. She publicly supported the legal challenge and stated that if Dornink was not removed from the primary election ballot, Democrats would attempt to remove him later — threatening the GOP’s chances of keeping the seat. The Supreme Court rejected the petition. It was filed too late, just before the primary election, and after early voting began. Dornink defeated Hanson 71.5 percent vs 28.5 percent in primary. He contends that challenges to his residency rights are frivolous.
What would have happened if that petition had been granted? Or if Democrats win a legal battle later?
Cassondra Knudson spokeswoman for Secretary Steve Simon and stated that if one candidate in a primary is declared ineligible, then the other candidate advances to the general elections. Hanson would have been the Republican candidate against Democrat Brandon Lawhead if Dornink was removed.
Knudson stated that Democrats could challenge Dornink’s residency in the general election. If they do, Knudson would give the GOP roughly one week to name a new candidate. This assumes the original candidate is not eligible 79 days before the general elections.
If Dornink is ruled ineligible within 79 days of the election, then the November election results are invalid for the legislative race. In such a case, a special makeup election would take place in February between Lawhead or a Republican candidate chosen by the party.
Westrom challenge still pending
A third-party candidate ran to the right of Westrom’s seat. The senator, who was previously elected to eight terms in Congress, lived in Elbow Lake. He announced that he would be moving to Alexandria to contest against Rep. Jordan Rasmusson (R-Fergus Falls) for the seat of retiring Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen.
Ashley Klingbeil and Christine Fischer, her campaign manager, ran under the party “We the People.” They argued in court files last week that video evidence showed that Westrom’s Elbow Lake home was in use, while the Alexandria one is empty and “appears abandoned.”
The petition states that “no member of Torrey Westrom’s family was present on the property during multiple residency checks” and “no personal vehicles were observed at the property.”
Westrom wrote a statement denying that the allegations were “baseless” or a “desperate attempt distract from the real issues.”
Westrom stated that “I changed my residence to rural Alexandria before the deadline in complete compliance with Minnesota Law.”
Klingbeil, in Westrom’s instance, hopes that the residency challenge will result in a two-person race, Fischer said to MinnPost.
Fischer stated that a court could order a special election, but she thinks it unlikely due to the time required to correct incorrect ballots. Fischer stated that the GOP had the opportunity to run a candidate. She believes Westrom should be replaced by another candidate.
This does not seem to be possible. A state law states that a major political party may nominate a candidate for the nomination of a new candidate if they have theirs removed. A special election would also be called if Westrom was removed within the 79th day prior to the general election, which is this weekend. David Schultz is a Hamline University professor of political science and election law. He said that the statute doesn’t allow for any exceptions.
If Klingbeil is successful, Republicans can choose to have someone run for the November general election or the February special election. Fischer said that the GOP would have the opportunity to replace Westrom, but it would be difficult for them to find an alternative within a week.
The state Supreme Court ruled that Bob Barrett, then-Rep. of the northeast metro, didn’t reside in his district. Although he was removed from the ballot by the Pioneer Press, the court denied that an argument for a Republican-free election had been made. Anne Neu was elected to replace Barrett.