ST. LOUIS COUNTY
St. Louis County commissioner primary elections will be delayed two
weeks by lawsuits over the redistricting of its seven commissioner
districts, but the general election will take place as scheduled Nov. 5.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer issued an order Wednesday
adopting alternative election procedures after a court order declared the
county's first redistricting plan unconstitutional. The County Board
adopted a second plan after election filings opened.
The plan is doable, said Paul Tynjala, deputy county auditor in charge
"Maybe it isn't necessarily what we want, but we'll do it,"
Four-year commissioner positions will be open in the 2nd, 4th and 6th
districts, seats held by Joanne Fay, Mike Forsman and Paul Plesha. The 1st
and 5th districts, represented by Dennis Fink and Peg Sweeney, will have
elections for two-year terms. All candidates will be required to file
again for the offices they're seeking.
The plan ordered Wednesday will take advantage of the usually large
turnouts for general elections. General elections in the county in
nonpresidential election years usually average 70 percent to 80 percent
turnout, Tynjala said. In special elections, the turnout usually is 30
percent to 50 percent of registered voters.
Kiffmeyer's order contains this schedule:
• Official notice of coming
election filings must be published on or before Aug. 14.
• Candidate filings will be Aug.
28 to Sept. 3.
• Candidates can withdraw until 5
p.m. Sept. 4.
• Absentee ballots will be
available Sept. 9.
• Primaries are scheduled Sept.
24 in districts where more than two commissioner candidates have filed.
• Election for commissioners,
governor, U.S. senator and many other offices will be held as scheduled
The plan also gives the auditor's office the legally required 14 to 20
days before the election to mail ballots to about 15 remote precincts
where people vote by mail, Tynjala said.
The 2002 county commissioner election has been up in the air for weeks.
In June, commissioners Fay and Fink, Colvin Township resident Jim
Hofsommer and the Citizens Research Council challenged a redistricting
plan passed May 28 by the County Board. On July 1, 6th Judicial District
Judge Terry Hallenbeck declared that plan null and void because the
population was not equal among districts.
County Auditor Gordon McFaul was not named in that suit. On the advice
of County Attorney Alan Mitchell, McFaul concluded the order did not apply
to him. His office supervises elections.
Furthermore, there was no plan to replace the voided one, so when
filings opened July 2, the May 28 plan districts were used.
On July 9, the County Board passed a second redistricting plan with
more equal population distribution.
On July 17, Hallenbeck issued a temporary injunction enjoining the
auditor from holding an election under the May plan. He said the July plan
could, however, be used for the election.
But by that time, the auditor's office couldn't meet several deadlines
associated with the Sept. 10 primary elections.
Kiffmeyer's office presented two options, and the auditor's office
presented one to Hallenbeck. The judge issued an order regarding a legal
time frame late Tuesday that essentially eliminated one of Kiffmeyer's
After consultation Wednesday with the auditor's office, Kiffmeyer
issued her order. While it compresses several steps in the process, it can
be done, Tynjala said.
The auditor's plan was to hold the county commissioner primaries on
general election day in November and the general election on Dec. 17. But
Kiffmeyer said she wanted the commissioners elected at the same time as
"Aiming to Nov. 5, when you can, is in the best interest of the
citizens of St. Louis County," she said. Iffy weather and a lack of
other offices to vote for would likely have led to low voter turnout in a
special December election, she said.
While at least two other counties, Wabasha and Winona, have had to
reshape their original redistricting plans, St. Louis County is the only
one in Minnesota that will have a special election as a result, Kiffmeyer
JANE BRISSETT covers St. Louis County and
nonprofits. She can be reached weekdays at (218) 720-4161, (800)
456-8282 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.