2020 GOP state Senate candidate Donna Bergstrom, left, and District 7 state Sen. Jennifer McEwen, right. Bergstrom contested the 2020 election results.
GOP MN Senate candidate claimed irregularities, possible fraud in 2020 election
In another legal defeat for those who doubted the 2020 elections were on the level, the Minnesota Supreme Court has rejected a state Senate candidate’s bid to contest her election loss. (Wednesday’s ruling here.)
GOP candidate Donna Bergstrom lost to DFLer Jen McEwen in Duluth’s 7th District state Senate race that year. According to the Secretary of State’s website, the final tally was 30,526 votes for McEwen and 14,081 votes for Bergstrom—a 68-32% margin. McEwen was certified the winner.
Bergstrom first asked for a recount in one precinct; that netted her three additional votes. She then filed notice that she was contesting the election, naming McEwen and the St. Louis county auditor as contestees. Bergstrom alleged possible irregularities in the conduct of the election and in the canvass of absentee ballot votes.
Specifically, Bergstrom sought to challenge whether the board that’s responsible for reviewing absentee ballots was “properly constituted” and allowed for bipartisan review.
She also alleged that rules governing absentee-ballot casting at group homes, nursing homes and other similar settings weren’t followed. She complained of possible discrepancies in vote totals, “due to algorithm anomalies in voting software,” an “egregious possibility” of fraud and alleged tampering with voting machines.
Her election-contest filing claimed that her First Amendment rights and constitutional equal protections had been violated. Bergstrom also accused Secretary of State Steve Simon of violating the separation of powers by adopting “conflicting rules” for the 2020 contest.
Lastly, Bergstrom alleged a due-process violation, under both the Fourteenth Amendment and Article I of the Minnesota Constitution, based on disparate treatment “between in-person, day-of-the election voters and voters who cast a ballot from home.”
As relief, Bergstrom requested the disclosure of voter data, an inspection of all absentee ballots and information on St. Louis County’s voting systems and machines. She also wanted information about the people who served on the county’s absentee ballot boards turned over to her, among other demands.
Bergstrom further asked the District Court to allow “a true count of the legally cast votes through a process of discovery.” McEwen moved to dismiss.
On Jan. 5, St. Louis County District Court Judge Eric Hylden rejected Bergstrom’s election challenge, along with two others filed simultaneously by the GOP House District 7A and 7B candidates in the 2020 race.
All had failed to state a viable claim for relief, Hylden found, because none had claimed that, should their allegations be proven at trial, the election’s outcome would change.
“Instead, there is a somewhat vague feeling that something was not right,” Hylden wrote. “While the court sympathizes with contestants, this is not enough to move forward with an election contest.”
On appeal, Bergstrom asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to resolve three issues:
- Whether a delay in submitting a copy of her election-contest notice to the chief justice prejudiced her case.
- Whether her allegations of civil rights violations were properly placed before the court.
- Whether the District Court erred by dismissing Bergstrom’s election contest for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.
No, no and no, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
The appellant wasn’t prejudiced by a delay in providing the chief justice timely notice of Bergstrom’s election challenge last December , the court ruled.
Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, writing for the court, expressed chagrin about the missed three-day statutory deadline, which could have delayed the process of selecting a District Court judge. But her court decided that, on balance, several days’ delay wouldn’t have substantially altered the timing of proceedings.
On the second issue, Bergstrom’s civil rights claim under the federal Voting Rights Act, the court found that the matter had not previously been raised, either in the notice of the election contest or at the District Court. Therefore, justices ruled, it was not properly asserted on appeal.
Thirdly, justices found that the District Court did not err by granting McEwen’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for relief. Like Hylden, the Supreme Court found that Bergstrom failed to allege that any of the claimed irregularities or errors would have affected the election’s outcome.
Fundamentally, Bergstrom argued that transparency and public confidence in election integrity demanded the inspection and discovery that she wanted the court to grant.
But even if such concerns could be dealt with through an election contest, Gildea writes, they would need to be supported by allegations sufficient to support a claim for relief under Chapter 209 of the Minnesota Statutes.
“Given the expectation for an expeditious resolution of an election contest,” Gildea writes, “… we will not lightly disturb the canvassed, certified and recounted results of a fair election in the absence of allegations that comply with the well-established pleading standard for election contests.”
The ruling concludes by expressing the court’s confidence that the voters’ will in Senate District 7 was accurately reflected in the 2020 election’s result, which was “upheld through multiple reviews” of the ballots cast.
With that, the court affirmed. Associate Justices Margaret H. Chutich and Gordon Moore took no part in the case.
In addition to being a legislator, McEwen is a practicing attorney. Bergstrom, a consultant and retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, has a master’s degree in legal studies from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, according to her LinkedIn page.
McEwen was represented by lawyers from the Lockridge Grindal Nauen law firm, led by attorney and firm partner Charles Nauen. Bergstrom was a pro se litigant.