A Freeborn County woman has filed a petition with the Minnesota Supreme Court, asking for the removal of republican State Sen. Gene Dornink from next week's primary election ballot.
The petition, filed by Judy Kay Olson, of Glenville, alleges Dornink resides in Hayfield, which is outside of Senate District 23, which Dornink is currently listed as a candidate. She is asking Dornink's name be removed from the Republican primary ballot on Aug. 9, where he is running against political newcomer Lisa Hanson, a republican from Hayward.
Hanson made headlines in May 2021 after she was arrested and charged with defying Gov. Tim Walz's orders for restaurants and bars to close to prevent COVID-19 infections, keeping the wine and coffee bar she owned in Albert Lea open.
Following the redistricting of his current district, District 27, Dornink publicly announced he would be moving from Hayfield to a family home in Glenville to continue representing a bulk of his current constituents. He later announced his family moved to Brownsdale, which is the address listed on his candidacy affidavit filed in May.
District 23 will include all of Freeborn County, most of Mower and Faribault counties, the southern half of Waseca County — including the cities of Waldorf and New Richland — and the southern half of Steele County — including the cities of Ellendale and Blooming Prairie.
Olson's petition was filed 12 days before the primary election, scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 9. It was also filed 35 days after the beginning of no-excuse early voting, 65 days since Dornink filed his candidacy affidavit and 161 days since his public announcement of intent to run for office.
According to court documents, Olson hired a private investigator by the name of Keith Haskell to determine whether Dornink indeed moved into the newly drawn District 23. Court records show Haskell allegedly has video proof of Dornink still living primarily at his Hayfield home between May 8 and the filing of the petition on Thursday.
According to the petition, Olson said on May 10 she drove by the Glenville address where Dornink was going to live originally at 78298 150th St. and found no indication Dornink and his family had moved into the property. She then contacted Haskell, who allegedly has had ties to Hanson’s campaign, being paid $3,000 this spring as a "campaign manager employee," according to public campaign records.
Court documents show another witness by the name of Carol Linde said she drove by the Glenville address on May 18, May 20 and May 23 and found no indication that anyone lived there.
The petition states Olson allegedly drove by the Brownsdale home on June 16 and July 15 and determined for herself it "did not appear that anyone was living at the address based on the appearance of property and the clear lack of activity.”
Court records show Haskell allegedly spoke with neighbors to the Brownsdale residence who claimed there was little activity at the home.
Dornink issued the following statement responding to the court filing challenging his residency in the district:
“This is an absurd complaint. I’ve been living at the home in Brownsdale since May. Maybe these investigators didn’t see me the six times they visited, because I am working during the day and campaigning in the evening. I have been getting a great reception at the doors, parades and fairs, and I will be continuing on the campaign trail. I look forward to the prompt dismissal of the frivolous accusation.”
In a court order Friday, Chief Justice Lorie Gildea stated Olson needed to provide proof of service of her petition upon all of the respondents in the case, which included the secretary of state, Dornink and the county auditors in Freeborn, Faribault, Mower, Steele and Waseca counties.
Dornink's attorney filed a formal response Monday, stating the state senator moved into the Brownsdale address on May 6. The response also calls for the petition to be dismissed based on the "unreasonable delay" in filing the petition, considering she claimed to have evidence as early as May, which has resulted in "significant prejudice" to Dornink. Furthermore, the response states that, because primary voting has begun and is presently occurring, Olson's relief would require disenfranchising those who have already voted.
On Monday, all five county auditors provided a response to the court on when a decision on this matter would need to be made for them to be able to "allow for the effective administration" of the primary election. Citing the recent court ruling in Landis v. Simon, et al, 2022 WL 2822738, where it was found that if the candidate was not a valid candidate for office, the primary election was not necessary, and the results would not be canvassed, the auditors from Steele, Faribault, Mower and Waseca counties stated they would need a decision by Wednesday or Thursday. That ruling did not require any physical changes to the primary ballot.
In Freeborn County, however, Auditor Pat Martinson stated it would be necessary they conduct the primary election first and then determine the result. Martinson said it is too late to order corrected ballots that would not include Dornink, and it is also too late to reprogram election equipment.
"It would damage the integrity of the election to alter already printed ballots," Martinson wrote, adding if the court orders canvassing boards not to canvass the returns of Senate District 23 from the 2022 Republican Party primary election, Freeborn County would need such an order no later than Aug. 11.