Candidate loses bid for new election over misplaced photo
MINNESOTA–A Minnesota state Senate candidate who claimed a misplaced photograph in a newspaper caused his 104-vote loss in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party primary election lost his bid for a new election in mid-February.
After a ten-minute meeting, the Minnesota Senate Election Laws Committee voted 8-2 to dismiss John Derus’ complaint that the erroneous publication of his photo cost him the election. The Minneapolis Star Tribune accidentally printed Derus’ photo in an unrelated charity fraud story on primary election day. Derus told the Associated Press that he suspects someone at the newspaper, which has strongly criticized him in editorials, had intentionally tried to sabotage his campaign.
Star Tribune editors told the Committee that the photo had appeared in the charity fraud story because of a computer error and that the mistake went unnoticed because none of the editors responsible for proofing the page recognized Derus, AP reported.
Linda Higgins, who won the DFL primary, went on to win a state Senate seat from Minneapolis.
Although Derus’ request for a new state senate election was dismissed, several members of the committee suggested that there are other legal avenues open to him, such as suing the newspaper. Some senators also expressed concern that current law does not cover election misconduct by parties other than the candidates and their supporters.
The Supreme Court had dismissed Derus’ complaint in a 3-2 vote in October 1996. Two judges held that Minnesota election misconduct laws do not apply to third parties like the newspaper, and a third held that the court has no power to hear election contests under the state constitution. The court had taken jurisdiction of the case from a trial court before the lower court heard arguments.
According to the court, only the Minnesota Legislature would have the authority to change election laws so they applied to situations like the present controversy. Derus could seek a “remedy” for his case through the legislature, because the Minnesota Constitution states the legislature is “the judge of the … eligibility of its own members,” the high court held.
In a similar situation, former Oklahoma House member John Smaligo (Rep. Owasso) filed a lawsuit mid-January against The Claremore (Okla.) Progress, claiming the newspaper was responsible for his 1996 election loss.
According to the Associated Press, Smaligo claims that the newspaper reported in mid-January 1996 that his former wife was granted a protective order against him because he had become violent, but did not report that the order was rescinded the following day. Smaligo alleged the paper knew or should have known the order was rescinded. (Smaligo v. Claremore Progress)