This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Minnesota Municipal Elections Ordinance No. 04-08-11
Filed July 18, 2006
Toussaint, Chief Judge
Gerald J. Brown, Brown, Andrew & Signorelli, P.A., 306 West Superior Street, Suite 300, Duluth, MN 55802 (for respondent Juan Lazo)
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge
The City of
On appeal, the city argues that, when a petition requesting a referendum is submitted within the 180-day time period but is determined by the city clerk to be invalid after the 180-day time period has run, the district court abuses its discretion in granting additional time to cure the deficiencies of the petition. Lazo argues that omissions by the city entitled proponents of the referendum to appropriate judicial relief under Minn. Stat. § 204B.44.
Any individual may petition the
court to correct a wrongful act, omission, or error committed by an individual
charged with any duty concerning an election.
the court shall immediately set a time for a hearing on the matter and order the officer, board or individual charged with the error, omission or wrongful act to correct the error or wrongful act or perform the duty or show cause for not doing so. The court shall issue its findings and a final order for appropriate relief as soon as possible after the hearing.
argues that the petition for a referendum was facially deficient so that
Ordinance 04-08-11 automatically became effective 240 days after passage and
[a]n ordinance changing the year of the municipal election is effective 240 days after passage and publication or at a later date fixed in the ordinance. Within 180 days after passage and publication of the ordinance, a petition requesting a referendum on the ordinance may be filed with the city clerk. The petition shall be signed by eligible voters equal in number to ten percent of the total number of votes cast in the city at the last municipal general election. If the requisite petition is filed within the prescribed period, the ordinance shall not become effective until it is approved by a majority of the voters voting on the question at a general or special election held at least 60 days after submission of the petition. If the petition is filed, the governing body may reconsider its action in adopting the ordinance.
Minn. Stat. § 205.07, subd. 3 (2004). In allowing for a petition process, the statute
expressly sets timelines, the filing officer, the number of signatures needed,
and the requirement that those signatures are of “eligible voters.”
Here, the petition was filed with the city clerk ten days before the statutory 180-day deadline. The petition had the following descriptive heading on each page:
The undersigned eligible voters of
The petition contained more than the requisite number of signatures and included a printed name and address for each signatory. Notwithstanding the form requirements of Minn. R. 8205.1010 and the verification requirement of Minn. R. 8205.1050 (2003), the filing of the petition suspended the effective date of the ordinance pending the outcome of a referendum vote.
forms required for any
Courts can take notice of how difficult it is to prepare and to circulate any petition. Frequently such petitions are prepared by laymen, not skilled in the technical aspects of the law. Courts should exercise extreme caution in ruling out, on mere technicalities, such documents [as petitions] which are the result of democracy working at the grassroots level.
Bogen v. Sheedy,
The district court found that the technical defects of the petition form were offset by technical defects in both the ordinance and the city clerk’s failure to complete a timely verification of the petition. The city clerk also failed to provide a proper receipt to the person who filed the petition.
R. 8205.1050, subp. 2, the filing officer “shall verify each petition.” The filing officer must complete this
verification process no later than ten working days after the day on which the
petition was filed.
Alternatively, the city argues that the ten-day verification requirement was irrelevant because the city clerk had until February 28, 2005, to verify the petition, but the time for petitioners to file a valid petition ended on February 25, 2005. Because petitioners were not timely notified of the city’s determination that the petition was technically invalid and because the city determined that the time to correct the petition had run out after 180 days, we conclude that the record supports the district court’s determination that petitioners were unduly prejudiced.
The district court found that the
failure of the city clerk to timely verify the legal sufficiency of the
petition “frustrated the will of the people to a free and fair determination of
the issues.” We agree. While courts owe great deference to the legislative
judgment of governing bodies such as city councils, “equal deference should by
given to the wishes of a large number of voters who are willing to affix their
signatures to a petition in order to allow all voters of a municipality to
express their views on a very controversial matter.” Bogen,
[P]ublic officials rule with the consent of the governed. What possible harm could result in requiring a referendum on the subject matter of this litigation? If the voters vote down the ordinance, it will be the majority of the people themselves and not merely their elected representatives making that decision. If the voters affirm the council, what greater assurance and encouragement could be given officials required by law to enforce such an ordinance than the fact that such a law has been passed by not only a majority of the legislative body of that city but of the people as well?
The district court allowed Lazo a brief period of time to cure the technical deficiencies in the petition, relying on language in Minn. Stat. § 204B.44: “In order to allow the City Clerk to correct the omission, Petitioner may re-file a petition for referendum with the City Clerk.” (Emphasis added.) Lazo quickly cured the technical defects and re-filed the petition. The city admits that the technical requirements were met in the re-filed petition.
The district court has the
authority to order the election officer charged with an error, omission, or
wrongful act “to correct the error or wrongful act or perform the duty or show
cause for not doing so.”
Because the re-filed petition was sufficient under Minn. Stat. § 205.07, subd. 3, the city ordinance changing the year of the municipal election is not effective until it is approved in a referendum vote. Therefore, the city must hold a referendum on the ordinance and elections to fill the seats of the mayor and two city council members, which were due to expire in 2005, as soon as legally possible.
 On its
face, the ordinance was in conflict with Minn. Stat. § 205.07. The ordinance established an effective date
immediate upon passage and publication.
Minn. R. 8205.1040, subp. 4 (2003), the filing officer is required to
provide the person filing the petition with a receipt for the petition. The receipt must include “the name, address
and telephone number of the person submitting the petition.”
 We note that, if the city clerk and city attorney were unsure whether provisions in rules chapter 8205 applied, ordinary citizens submitting a petition might reasonably be unaware that the technical form requirements found in chapter 8205 applied to their petition.