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Appeals Court upholds township ballot burning verdict

Minnesota Court of Appeals has affirmed the conviction of a Wanamingo Township supervisor who burned ballots after the 2014 spring election.

The attorney for Thomas Joseph Shane argued that destroying ballots is a specific-intent crime under state statute, meaning the act needed to have been carried out with the intent to commit a crime. But the Appeals Court decision filed July 5 determined it is a general-intent law, and that the act only had to have been done on purpose.

“We understand the decision of the court but respectfully disagree with it,” defense attorney Alex Rogosheske wrote in an email to the Republican Eagle on Tuesday. “We do not believe that when the Legislature enacted the destruction of ballot statute that they intended to punish people, in my client’s circumstance, where there is no voter fraud, no demand for a re-count and a landslide victory.”

Rogosheske said options are being weighed whether to take the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

View the Court of Appeals decision here (pdf).

The appeal is believed to have been the first of its kind for the state law requiring ballots be kept at least 22 months after an election.

The Court of Appeals also found Goodhue County District Court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to instruct jurors regarding the defenses of mistake of law and reliance on official government statements, nor did it err by ruling on the jury instructions until after the close of evidence.

Shane, of Zumbrota, admitted at trial to taking and later burning the ballots, but testified he did so after hearing a fellow township supervisor and an election teller suggest the documents be destroyed. The Court of Appeals determined the statements did not constitute official advice that the destruction of ballots would be lawful.

The felony conviction was sentenced as a misdemeanour in September 2015. A one-year prison term was stayed for two years of probation on condition Shane pays a $500 fine, completes 100 hours of work service and attends election judge training.

The jury acquitted Shane of a lesser count of misconduct by a public officer.

Shane was not up for re-election on the night in question. He retained his seat as a write-in candidate in March 2015.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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