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

BISMARCK, ND (AP) — A North Dakota county election official is suing the state’s chief election officer for blocking the counting of mail-in ballots received after Election Day in a lawsuit brought by a conservative group that also sued amid former President Donald Trump’s fake. allegations of electoral fraud in 2020.

An election law expert said the Public Interest Legal Foundation appeared to be “shopping” for a conservative circuit with its case, which seeks an injunction against the chief electoral officer for enforcing state laws.

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

“Despite federal law designating a 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 US Constitution gives states the power to decide how their elections will be conducted.

Splonskowski says he faces criminal penalties “if he incorrectly chooses” which law to apply.

North Dakota law allows mail-in ballots received after Election Day to be counted by county canvassing commissions, which meet 13 days after the election, but those ballots must be postmarked before the date of the election.

The foundation in 2020 filed voting-related lawsuits in Pennsylvania and Arizona amid Trump voter fraud allegations.

“Election Day has ceased to be a day,” Foundation President J. Christian Adams said in a statement. “Instead, we have election month because states accept ballots that arrive days or even weeks after Election Day. Not only does this lead to mistrust and chaos in the system, but it also violates federal law. The PILF is fighting to end this anarchy and restore Election Day. »

Adams was a member of Trump’s Vote Integrity Committee that investigated the 2016 election for fraud.

Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and election law expert, said in an interview that the lawsuit is “kind of a backdoor way to attack not having full results on the day of the ballot, so this ties very much to Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about the (2020) election.”

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

“What I’m trying to do is be proactive and try to make future elections as safe as possible and try to do whatever I can proactively to ensure that our elections are safe and build public confidence in our electoral system,” he said. Associated Press.

“I think as long as a state intends to accept ballots that were cast before Election Day, it probably does not violate federal law to count ballots that arrive after Election Day. ballot, but I don’t know of any court that has squarely addressed the issue,” Hasen said.

State Chief Electoral Officer Erika White did not immediately respond to a phone message to comment on the lawsuit.

The foundation is “a so-called voter integrity group” that pushes lawsuits “aimed at what they say will make an election safer, but often seem to be aimed at making it harder for people to register or vote.” vote,” according to Hasen.

West Fargo-area attorney David Chapman is the group’s local attorney. He referred questions to the foundation’s media contact.

The foundation appears to have searched North Dakota for potential parties to its case.

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

Johnsrud declined to join the case. “I believe North Dakota has great election laws in place, and we have a great relationship with the secretary of state’s office, and it just didn’t seem 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 filed in North Dakota “because the state’s 13-day ballot acceptance is l one of the longest electoral extensions in the country”.

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

Hasen, the election law expert, said the US Eighth Circuit, a seven-state court that includes North Dakota, “is a pretty conservative court” compared to more liberal neighboring courts. Trump-appointed District Judge Dan Traynor is handling the case.

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