Court says state senator can remain on primary ballot

A man with a red tie
Republican Sen. Gene Dornink will stay on the District 23 primary ballot after a ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court Friday.
Courtesy of Minnesota Senate

A Minnesota state senator will keep his place on next Tuesday’s primary ballot after a challenge to the Republican’s residency was dismissed.

The state Supreme Court said in an order Friday that the attempt to strike Sen. Gene Dornink from a race in southern Minnesota came too late after suspicions were first raised and it would create election complications. Dornink’s residency was questioned by people partial to his GOP challenger, Lisa Hanson.

Dornink bought a new house in a nearby town after new district boundaries paired him with a fellow incumbent. He insists he met residency requirements in state law despite allegations he has spent considerable time in his family’s prior home.

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, who wrote the order, said some delay in investigating and then seeking to remove a candidate is reasonable. But she said the time lapse here went beyond that, noting that those questioning the senator’s living arrangement spread their visits to his property out over a month and then took additional time to file with the court.

Gildea wrote that “unreasonable delay in filing the petition and the substantial prejudice that would result from making a last-minute change to the ballots after they have been printed and early voting commenced, requires that the petition be dismissed.”

The order came about a week after the case was first filed. The ruling appears to speak only to his eligibility in the primary election. 

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Dornink praised the ruling in a written statement.

"I'm grateful the court dismissed this baseless case so quickly," Dornink said. "I appreciate the support from so many who reached out to me through this process. I will continue running a positive, issue-oriented campaign.”

Hanson, a restaurant owner who says Dornink wasn’t forceful enough in taking on COVID-19 restrictions, has said she believes Democrats will raise their own residency challenge if he wins Tuesday.

“The Democrats, or anyone for that matter, have the wide open ability to file a new petition against Dornink and effectively knock him out,” Hanson said in a statement issued Friday night. “Let’s be honest, Dornink is damaged goods. With the evidence of the petition being unchallenged how can Dornink be trusted.”

The winner is set to face DFLer Brandon Lawhead, who is the only member of his party on the ballot in the district.