Dornink responds to residency allegations

Published 8:22 am Tuesday, August 2, 2022

State Sen. Gene Dornink on Monday filed a response to allegations that he does not live in the newly formed District 23, stating he bought a home in Brownsdale on March 25 and moved into that residence the first week in May. 

“I have resided at my Brownsdale home from that time until now,” he said. “My only overnight absences were as a result of legislative service.” 

Sen. Gene Dornink

Dornink, was elected senator of District 27 in 2020, and is slated to face off against opponent Lisa Hanson Aug. 9 in the Republican primary for the newly formed seat, though a petition filed last week by Glenville resident Judy Olson with the Minnesota Supreme Court is asking to remove Dornink from the ballot, alleging he still resides in Hayfield, which is now outside of District 23. 

A response to the petition filed by Dornink’s lawyers, R. Rield LeBeau II and Benjamin N. Pachito, states the court should dismiss the petition under laches — an unreasonable delay in asserting a known legal right or claim — being that it was filed 12 days before the primary election, 35 days after absentee balloting began and 65 days after Dornink filed for office. 

“Petitioner’s unreasonable delay in filing her petition has caused significant prejudice to Senator Dornink, who resides in the district and has been engaged in extensive campaign activity since redistricting lines were released,” the response stated. 

It also causes substantial prejudice to election officials and the primary electorate, the response said. 

“Petitioner’s advance notice of Senator Dornink’s intent to run for office placed an onus on her to act expeditiously without delay after Senator Dornink filed his affidavit of candidacy,” the lawyers stated. “Rather than acting expeditiously, Petitioner waited over two months to file her petition.”

New legislative district lines were issued Feb. 15, and Dornink announced his intention to run for the seat Feb. 17. He purchased his home at 104 Northwest Grove S. In Brownsdale and said he moved into the home by May 6. 

Secretary of State Steve Simon, in a response filed by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, said while he takes no position on the merits of whether Dornink should be disqualified, the secretary believes the petition should also be barred by laches. 

Should the court, however, determine if Dornink is ineligible to run, Simon asked that the court order the District 23 race not be canvassed, with a decision needed by Aug. 15, the day before the state canvassing board is slated to meet to canvass the statewide primary. If the court does decide to disqualify Dornink, however, it would be too late to revise the primary ballot and he suggested instead the court order the race not be canvassed. 

Simon said state law authorizes registered voters to challenge the candidacy of individuals running for state Legislature based on residence. No later than one day after the filing period for the office closes, a voter can request that the filing officer who received the affidavit of candidacy review he affidavit to determine whether the address provided indicates the candidate is ineligible to run for that seat. If the address indicates the candidate is ineligible, the candidate’s name must be removed from the ballot. 

He said neither the petitioner nor anyone else filed for an affidavit review with his office regarding Dornink.

“Here, petitioner sat on her rights for over two months before challenging Dornink’s placement on the primary ballot,” he wrote. “As a result of that delay, her challenge is now in front of the court after ballots have already been printed, assistive equipment has already been programmed, and voters have already voted for the Senate District 23 primary election.”

If the court disqualifies Dornink from running for the seat, Hanson will be unopposed and entitled to automatic nomination.

Freeborn County Auditor-Treasurer Pat Martinson said in her response that it was too late to order corrected ballots if Dornink is removed and too late to reprogram election equipment, noting it would alter the integrity of the election to alter already printed ballots.