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Voter Advocacy Groups Sue to Keep Private Military Personnel Away From MN Polling Places

MADISON, WI - APRIL 07: Poll worker Josh Harrison, center, works with Chad Donahue, right, during curbside voting on April 7, 2020 in Madison, Wisconsin. Residents in Wisconsin went to the polls a day after the U.S. Supreme Court voted against an extension of the absentee ballot deadline in the state. Because of the coronavirus, the number of polling places was drastically reduced. (Photo by Andy Manis/Getty Images)
By Laura Temme, Esq. on October 21, 2020 1:11 PM

Editor's Note: This post has been updated with new information regarding the result of Attorney General Ellison's investigation. Last update: October 30, 2020.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations of Minnesota (CAIR-MN) and the League of Women Voters of Minnesota filed suit earlier this month in federal court to prevent a private security company from deploying armed ex-soldiers to polling places in the state. 

The job posting by Atlas Aegis advertised positions for those with backgrounds in Special Forces to "protect election polls, local businesses and residences from looting and destruction." But voter advocates say their presence will inevitably intimidate voters.

Company Admits They're Targeting Certain Groups

In response to backlash over the job postings, Atlas Aegis chairman Anthony Caudle confirmed to the Washington Post that a "large contingent" of former soldiers were being sent to Minnesota. He went on to reference protests in Minneapolis this summer following the death of George Floyd, saying the armed security agents would specifically be watching for those they perceived as "antifa" members or Black Lives Matter supporters.

These statements form the backbone of the complaint filed by CAIR-MN and the League of Women Voters. Armed "security" at a polling place would likely intimidate many voters, they argue, in addition to the company's goal of deterring specific groups based on race and political beliefs.

Ben Clements, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs and Board Chair/Senior Legal Advisor for Free Speech For People, called the plan to send "armed mercenaries" to voting stations a "brazen attempt to intimidate voters."

On October 13, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar commented on the situation during the confirmation hearing for Amy Coney Barrett, saying the company's efforts are "clear voter intimidation."

Attorney General Opens Investigation

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced he was launching an investigation into Atlas Aegis and these job postings on October 20, stating:

"Minnesota and federal law are clear: no one may interfere with or intimidate a voter at a polling place, and no one may operate private armed forces in our state."

Specifically, Minnesota law prohibits anyone other than the National Guard or U.S. military personnel from gathering "together as a military company with arms." Doing so could lead to misdemeanor charges. Furthermore, no one except an election official or individuals waiting to register or vote is allowed to stand within 100 feet of a polling place.

Just a few days later, Atlas Aegis backed down, offering written assurance that it is no longer recruiting and will not send private security to Minnesota polling places. The company claims it merely responded to requests from a Minnesota-based security company to fill positions. Although those solicitations did not indicate the work would take place at polling places, Caudle and Atlas Aegis believed they did. 

In an epic piece of backpedaling, Atlas Aegis acknowledged "that its statements to the Washington Post were incorrect," and that they "did not intend to intimidate, coerce or threaten Minnesota voters."

Ellison is encouraging all eligible Minnesota voters to cast their votes in "whatever way works best for them," offering assurances that this year's election will be "as safe and secure as they have always been."

Related Resources:

Could the Military Intervene in a Disputed Election? (FindLaw's Law & Daily Life)

5th Circuit Upholds Texas Policy of Limiting Ballot Drop Boxes to One Per County (FindLaw's Fifth Circuit)

8th Circuit: Judge Telling Defendant That Federal System "Sucks" Was Plain Error (FindLaw's Eighth Circuit)

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