Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

EDITORIAL: Tower City Council is failing to take the primary election breakdown seriously


As we reported two weeks ago, St. Louis County officials conducted an investigation into the handling of the Aug. 14 primary election in the city of Tower. Their findings were stunning, documenting fundamental failures in all aspects of the election process— from pre-election testing of equipment, to election administration and training, to election day process, to reporting of results, to post-vote handling of ballots.

These findings were included in an Aug. 24 letter to members of the Tower City Council from County Elections Supervisor Phil Chapman.

That letter did not appear on the council’s Aug. 27 meeting agenda, nor did it appear on the council agenda during their Sept. 10 meeting earlier this week. Trivial correspondence to the city regularly appears on the city’s agenda. Yet a detailed letter from the county elections supervisor detailing systematic failure in a recent city election, and which orders the city to pay for retraining of its city clerk, somehow fails to warrant the council’s attention?

Citizens in Tower should be very concerned.

The county investigation revealed a failure of duty on the part of the city’s election administrator that is unacceptable. It reflects disregard for her sworn obligations and an unwillingness to own up to her failures. And the only reason we know about these failures is because, in this instance, we had an outside authority who actually looked into it. The city council had no intention of investigating the matter, nor does it believe anyone should be held accountable for a fundamental breakdown of a constitutional process.

The city clerk has attempted to blame the county for the election disaster, which is ridiculous. It wasn’t St. Louis County that failed to conduct the pre-election testing of the city’s vote-counting equipment and auto-mark machine as required by law, and then certified that the testing had been conducted properly. It wasn’t St. Louis County that forced the city clerk to process absentee ballots contrary to state law. It wasn’t St. Louis County that reported 345 ballots in the city’s ballot box at the end of the primary voting on Aug. 14, when only 131 voters had signed-in to obtain a ballot. Those numbers were reported by the city clerk, and as far as we know, no one on the city council has inquired as to how such a number was reported to the county. Rather, it appears the council is content to sweep the whole matter under the rug.

By failing to address the results of the county investigation publicly, the council has done nothing to demonstrate that they take this matter seriously. Which means city residents have real reason to question the conduct of the upcoming general election. The city can’t rely on the county to do the city’s job. Ultimately, it is the city of Tower that is responsible for the administration of its elections and we have real concerns about whether a day of retraining for the clerk, as ordered by the county, will make much difference. The rules of election procedure are readily available to all election officials, as they are to the public. In reality, the conduct of the Aug. 14 primary suggests that officials in Tower simply did not care enough to do their jobs properly.

The city has an obligation to its residents to guarantee that the general election is run properly— which is why they should arrange for a qualified outside observer to monitor and offer guidance on the administration of the general election in Tower this year.

Yes, this will cost money, just as it will cost city taxpayers money to send the city clerk for elections retraining. But voting is a constitutional right and the city cannot allow a repeat of last month’s disaster. What’s more, some of the races on the ballot this year could be very close contests, and the last thing the city of Tower wants is to have its balloting procedures become central to recount litigation. Just ask the folks in Florida.


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Kevin Norby

Marshal, Thanks for keeping us informed.

I have no idea if my vote counted during the primaries and I have concerns about how the next election will go as well. Additional, sending in 345 ballots with only 131 signed voters sounds incredible. Like they used to say in corrupt Chicago, "vote early and vote often" or the "cemetery isn't quite done with their tallies yet".

We really do need more openness and transparency. Too many things seem to happen outside of open meetings. We all make mistakes, but we should own them and make a plan for fixing them. We need a plan from the city clerk, the mayor, and the council.

Keep up the good work on trying to shed light on what seems to be a shady place.

Thursday, September 13, 2018
Kevin Norby

I just want to clarify that I'm not saying the city is corrupt, but the practices definitely need to be fixed, improved, and more transparent. We need more light on what is going on. In contrast, Biwabik council meetings usually take 2 hours with lots of public input, lots of information, and lots of listening. See a recent article in the Mesabi that describes this.

Thursday, September 13, 2018