The Watertown City Council is more inclined to take petition enforcement into its own hands than the Minnehaha County Auditor’s Office.
As Jonathan Ellis reported last week, Marlin Schlenker is running for Minnehaha County Treasurer. His candidacy is noteworthy for multiple reasons:
- Schlenker’s running against his aunt-in-law and boss, incumbent treasurer Pam Nelson.
- Schlenker and his wife Sondee filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy last May to get out of $195,765.74, most of that associated with Sondee’s business, consignment shop Resale Living. Hmm… Minnehaha County, do you want a guy who couldn’t keep his own books balanced managing your public treasury?
- Schlenker lives in Lincoln County—not by much, just a block south of 57th Street, the in-town county line between Lincoln and Minnehaha.
Now Schlenker’s residency doesn’t create a legal problem with running for office: no law requires the county treasurer to live in the county she or he treasures. But Minnehaha County resident Debra Elofson raised an issue to Minnehaha County Auditor Bob Litz about Schlenker’s nominating petition, on which he says he lives in Minnehaha County:
Schlenker says on his petition that he is a resident of Minnehaha County, even though neither his apartment nor his voter registration are in Minnehaha County.
In her March 29 letter to Auditor Litz, Elofson does not ask for Schlenker to be thrown off the ballot; she merely contends that Schlenker misrepresented himself to the voters and petition signers and asks Auditor Litz “how you may proceed in resolving” that misrepresentation. In an April 4 letter, Auditor Litz responds that his office cannot act on that issue with regard to the petition, because (1) the South Dakota Supreme Court has never ruled on “whether an erroneous designation of a county of current residence in the heading of an otherwise sufficient petition renders the petitions invalid, and (2) substantiating the error requires the auditor to look up from the petition and check a map:
Auditor Litz thus takes the opposite position of the Watertown City Council, which Monday rejected a petition after taking under advisement extrinsic evidence which is not apparent on the face of the petition.
But even if any interested Minnehaha County voter took the petition to court, the argument would be harder to win than, say, the convictions of Annette Bosworth and Chad Haber for false statements on petitions. Technically, Schlenker’s misrepresentation of residence does not occur in his sworn Declaration of Candidacy; it occurs above, in the nominating statement the voters are endorsing. That statement bears no notary stamp, so Schlenker can’t be busted for perjury.
But let’s back up to an election integrity position. Marlin Schlenker made a false statement on a petition to gain access to the ballot. He told voters he lives in Minnehaha County, when in fact he does not live or vote in Minnehaha County. Now sure, the very next line of the petition heading gives his actual address, and any connected petition signer could look that address up and see that it lies in Lincoln County. Interested voters can now also read the Ellis article and see Schlenker explaining that, yes, he lives in Lincoln County but he plans to move back across the border into Minnehaha Sioux Falls within the next six months. But without taking under advisement extrinsic evidence, petition signers must take the petition at face value, and on face, Marlin Schlenker’s petition opens with a false statement, made knowingly by the petitioner.
And when petitioners lie to us, we ought to be skeptical.