The Minnesota Supreme Court, in an opinion filed Thursday, said Beltrami County Auditor-Treasurer Kay Mack properly denied Senate 4 candidate Greg Paquin's nominating petition for the Nov. 2 ballot.
"We ... hold that in denying Paquin?s nominating petition for lack of sufficient signatures, the County Auditor did not violate Minnesota law and did not violate Paquin's constitutional rights," the court ruled in an unsigned opinion.
The Supreme Court denied Paquin's appeal to be on the Nov. 2 ballot in an Aug. 24 order, but the opinion describing why wasn't filed until Thursday.
Greg Paquin and Nicole Beaulieu filed petitions as members of the Warriors for Justice Party, with Paquin seeking the Senate 4 seat held by Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, and Beaulieu for the House 4A seat held by Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji. Both needed 500 valid signatures to gain the ballot.
Both had earlier been denied endorsement by the DFL Party and filed as a new party, Warriors for Justice.
Mack denied both petitions, claiming neither contained the needed 500 signatures when names with only post office box numbers were eliminated.
Paquin claimed that someone in the Secretary of State's Office had advised him that it was OK to use just P.O. box numbers, and Paquin later claimed that state civil regulatory law doesn't apply on the reservation, where P.O. box numbers are commonly used as residence addresses.
Paquin also claimed that Mack allowed voter registration with only P.O. box numbers and that he was discriminated against by her not allowing P.O. boxes on nominating petitions.
The Supreme Court noted that state law requires that nominating petitions must contain the residence address of the signers so that they can be verified that they live in the district for which the candidate seeks office.
"Upon receipt of a nominating petition by the appropriate election official, the petition is to be inspected 'to verify that there are a sufficient number of signatures of individuals whose residence address as shown on the petition is in the district where the candidate is to be nominated,'" the court said, citing state law.
Of 557 signatures, 44 were found defective for various reasons and were not disputed by Paquin. Of the 513 remaining signatures, 166 listed a post office box number as "residence address."
"Paquin argues that respondent Mack should have determined from other sources the residence address of these signers," the court said in the 13 page opinion. "For example, Paquin suggests, respondent could have contacted the post office to determine the residence address of the holder of the indicated post office box, or could have reviewed voting records from previous elections to confirm that the signature on the petition belonged to someone living in the district."
But the court notes that federal law prohibits post office workers from divulging information about post office box holders and state law doesn't provide for the county auditor to investigate further than what is written on the petition.
State law "requires the inspection of a nominating petition 'to verify that there are a sufficient number of signatures of individuals whose residence address as shown on the petition is in the district where the candidate is to be nominated,'" the opinion states "Nothing in [state law] requires or even authorizes a county auditor (or the Secretary of State's office, if that is where the petition is filed) to consult other documents to confirm that the signer is a resident of the district."
The court also ruled that the post office box number alone is insufficient because it doesn't prove that the signer physically lives in the Senate 4 district.
"Paquin has the burden to prove that leaving his name off the ballot is an error that must be corrected," the court said. "Paquin cannot meet this burden unless he shows that the petition signers whose signatures were rejected for lack of a residence address provided information on the petition sufficient to establish that the signer lived within the legislative district."
Public Law 280 establishes that state governments cannot apply state civil laws to American Indians living on the reservation, but the Supreme Court ruled that the state does have jurisdiction with election laws as legislative districts surpass reservation boundaries.
"Public Law 280 does not bar assertion by the state of jurisdiction over activities of Indians 'going beyond reservation boundaries,'" it said. "Running for state legislative office and signing a nominating petition for state legislative office are activities 'going beyond reservation boundaries.' In seeking to become a candidate for state legislative office, and in signing the nominating petition, petitioner and his supporters are subject to state election laws."
In dismissing charges of discrimination, the court said that state laws differ in required information for registering to vote and in nominating petitions.
"We understand Paquin's reply to argue that Mack's strict enforcement of the residence address requirement with respect to his nominating petition violated his right to equal protection under the law," said the court. "The language of the voter registration statutes and the statute governing nominating petitions differs. The statute governing nominating petitions requires signers to provide 'the signer's residence address including street and number, if any, and mailing address if different from residence address.' No statute governing voter registration uses this language to describe the information that a prospective voter must provide in order to register to vote."
Further, "even if the language of the voter registration and nominating petition statutes were the same, it would not be enough for petitioner Paquin to prove that respondent Mack has differed in her enforcement of the residence address requirement over time; he must also prove that such differences were the result of intentional discrimination. Paquin has not made such a showing."
Both Paquin and Beaulieu pledge to run write-in campaigns for the two posts.
"It gets rather frustrating when ignorance becomes blatant and obnoxious, we need real representation, someone with compassion, and solidarity for their fellowman, not these status quo wannabe politicians that have made reputations of working in the interests of capitalism," says Beaulieu's campaign manager, Curtis Buckanaga. "People's discontentment with these two parties is becoming more common, although she was denied ballot status."
Buckanaga blasted both Republicans and Democrats for not paying heed to Indian Country needs.
"Both of these parties are constantly undermining and taking advantage of the situation of my people by over-exaggerating on their supposed competency of resolving matters in the interests of all citizens, which they are trying to be appointed to office by gaining the favor of the majority of the consensus to represent our communities at large, except the Indians," he said.. "Our basic human needs are constantly ignored, neglected, undermined, belittled and cast aside to make way for the overindulgent excessive necessities of our non-native brethren."