September 21, 2023

North Dakota election official challenges ballot count law in Trump-aligned group lawsuit

BISMARCK, ND (AP) — A North Dakota county election official is suing the state’s election director for blocking the counting of mail-in ballots received after election day in a lawsuit brought by a conservative group that also filed lawsuits amid former President Donald Trump’s false statements. claims of election fraud in 2020.

An expert on suffrage says the Public Interest Legal Foundation’s case appeared to be “court-shopping” for a conservative circuit, which is seeking an injunction against the election director for upholding state laws.

Burleigh County Auditor Mark Splonskowski, who was elected last fall, claims he was “harmed by instructions to accept and cast ballots received after Election Day,” and that “because federal and state laws conflict on the day the ballots are due, he faces an inability to enforce the law,” a complaint filed in federal court on Wednesday said.

“Despite federal law designating one day as Election Day, North Dakota law allows ballots to arrive and be counted up to 13 days after Election Day,” the complaint states.

The U.S. Constitution gives states the power to decide how their elections are conducted.

Splonskowski claims he risks criminal penalties “if he makes a wrong choice” of which law to enforce.

North Dakota law allows mailed ballots received after Election Day to be counted by the county solicitor boards, which meet 13 days after the election, but those ballots must be postmarked before the election date.

The foundation filed voting lawsuits in Pennsylvania and Arizona in 2020 amid Trump’s allegations of voter fraud.

“Election Day is not a day anymore,” Foundation President J. Christian Adams said in a statement. “Instead, we have Election Month because states accept ballots that arrive days and even weeks after Election Day. Not only does this create mistrust and chaos in the system, but it also violates federal law. PILF is fighting to end this lawlessness and restore Election Day.”

Adams was a member of Trump’s voting integrity panel that investigated the 2016 election for fraud.

University of California, Los Angeles law professor and suffrage expert Rick Hasen said in an interview that the lawsuit is “kind of a roundabout way to attack without full results on Election Day, so it closes join Trump’s unsupported claims about the (2020) election.”

Splonskowski said in an interview that the lawsuit has nothing to do with 2020. He said the foundation contacted him “and told me there were some concerns” about North Dakota’s law.

“What I’m trying to do is be proactive and try to make sure future elections are as safe as possible and do everything I can proactively to make sure our elections are safe and the public trust in our electoral system to strengthen,” he told The Associated Press.

“I think as long as a state intends to accept ballots cast before Election Day, it probably isn’t against federal law to count ballots that come in after Election Day, but I’m not aware of any court those square have addressed the issue,” Hasen said.

State Elections Director Erika White did not immediately respond to a telephone call for comment on the lawsuit.

The foundation is “a so-called voter integrity group” that pursues lawsuits “focused on what they believe will make for a safer election, but which often appear to be aimed at making it more difficult for people to register or vote,” Hasen said. . .

David Chapman, a West Fargo area attorney, is the group’s local counsel. For questions he referred to the media contact of the foundation.

The foundation seems to have looked around North Dakota for possible parties for its case.

McKenzie County Auditor/Treasurer Erica Johnsrud said in an interview that foundation representatives met with her on June 1, “looking for parties to participate in this potential lawsuit.”

Johnsrud refused to join the cause. “I believe North Dakota has great electoral laws, and we have a great relationship with the office of the Secretary of State, and it just didn’t feel like it was in the best interest of my county or my citizens,” she said.

Bowman said the foundation “met with several state and local officials before filing this case” and that it was filing in North Dakota “because the state’s 13 days of accepting ballots is one of the longest election extensions in the country it.”

“This case is about North Dakota,” she said when asked if a national injunction is the foundation’s goal with the case.

Hasen, the suffrage expert, said the US Eighth Circuit, a seven-state court that includes North Dakota, “is a fairly conservative court” compared to more liberal, neighboring courts. District Judge Dan Traynor, a Trump appointee, is hearing the case.

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