It looked like the most damaging tweet of Donald Trump’s campaign that wasn’t typed by the stubby digits of the ill-coiffed candidate himself.
On August 24, blogger and political paperwork geek Michael Brodkorb glanced at sample ballots presented by the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office, and noticed something amiss. The Republicans weren’t on it.
Brodkorb, a former Republican senior staffer, figured out that the party had picked the 10 “electors” who would cast Minnesota’s Electoral College votes if Trump wins the state. But they hadn’t submitted the names of 10 alternate electors. With that piece still missing, the Secretary of State’s office couldn’t put Trump on the ballot.
The GOP slapped a Band-Aid on its self-inflicted wound, holding a hasty meeting to pick its alternates. That fell short of the letter of the law, which specifies such decisions can only be made at a “convention.” Republicans had basically whiffed on a pitch in a dull game of insider baseball.
It was a small moment of ineptitude. But it’s nothing compared to the chickenshit move Democrats pulled in response.
Last Thursday, DFL Party chairman Ken Martin filed suit to block the Trump/Mike Pence ticket from appearing on Minnesota ballots, saying the party had failed to fulfill its legal obligations.
On Monday, the Supreme Court meted out swift justice, deciding that he’d waited too long and left too little time for a legal remedy.
At the time of his filing, Martin said the GOP had made “clear errors” in trying to shove their men back onto the ballot. He was right. But Democrats tried to win an election on a technicality, getting the other team thrown off the field for a minor bureaucratic screw-up.
The whole thing felt decidedly un-Minnesotan, this calculated push to bar millions of people in a state that prides itself on its highest-in-the-nation voter turnout.
It’s the sort of thing you might expect from… well, from Republicans.
For more than a decade, Democrats have howled about GOP efforts to suppress the vote. That fight reared its ugly head in Minnesota in 2012, when the Republican legislature tried passing a constitutional amendment to require voter IDs. Such laws are known to repress the vote of minorities and students – not to mention seniors and veterans who vote by mail. It’s done under the guise of fighting voter fraud, a crime that pretty much doesn’t exist.
Democrats were furious: The amendment was an obvious attempt to “take away rights from people.”
Who uttered that high-minded sentiment? Some guy called Ken Martin.
Lawyering your way to victory is American politics at its sleaziest. It’s the kind of thing that turns people off voting altogether. But hey, at least the Republicans are usually honest about what they’re up to. The DFL’s play against Trump reeks of hypocrisy.
It also stunk like something that might not have been cooked up locally: The lead legal dog in the case of Ken Martin v. The People He Doesn’t Want Allowed to Vote was Marc Elias, top lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
In a statement following the court’s decision, Martin said his lawsuit was “about the rule of law.” Ah, yes. The sacrosanct Minnesota Statute 204.B44, with its strict rules on the naming of alternate electors. If we can no longer uphold 204.B44, whither the republic.
Republican activist Jennifer DeJournett says her side probably would’ve done the same thing just to cause a headache for the DFL, which speaks to why we love politicians so. But she’s pissed about her own party’s amateur hour. Will people see this bizarre episode as evidence of Republican incompetence? Or DFL subterfuge?
“Frankly? Both,” DeJournett says. “Minnesotans wanna vote. And now Republicans can say, ‘There they go, taking away the right of people to vote.’”
The DFL just handed Trump a cudgel to wield against Hillary that he didn’t deserve. He was making it up when he said if he lost the election, it’s because the fix was in. This lawsuit looks like the Democrats’ attempt to make that lie come true.
Another Republican mentioned the “boomerang potential,” and how this kind of politics-over-people tactic might play badly with rural Minnesotans, who already don’t trust Hillary. Those small-town folks are suspicious of large-scale politics, inclined to agree with Trump that somehow the whole system’s “rigged.” Wonder why they’d think that.
Bernie Hesse, a political organizer with UFCW Local 1189, spent the past weekend rapping his sizable fist on the front doors of some of those very people, door-knocking in Faribault.
He didn’t waste any breath talking about alternate electors, instead asking what they care about. Not one of them mentioned Trump.
“They’re talking about funding for education, and a little bit about funding roads,” Hesse says. “They want money for nursing homes.”
Martin would do his party and its candidates a lot more good if he started listening to those people, and stopped taking calls from Hillary’s lawyer.
With any luck, the public will soon forget this ugly little episode -- and the state’s political class will never forget how rotten it smelled.
Maybe now’s the time to remind people of the truly embarrassing mistake the Republicans made: putting Donald Trump on the ballot in the first place.