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Attorney for St. Paul Council Member Dai Thao asks for case against him to be dismissed

June 9, 2018 GMT

St. Paul City Council Member Dai Thao didnt know he was breaking the law when he helped a woman vote while he was running for mayor last fall, and election judges at the polling place did nothing to stop him, according to a motion Thaos attorney filed Friday.

In a 21-page motion brief filed in Ramsey County District Court, attorney Joe Dixon argued that prosecutors have failed to prove that Thao knowingly broke the law, and that the case against him violates federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

Based on the undisputed facts, and given the States own acknowledged complicity, the States prosecution of Mr. Thao is not only unconstitutional and legally deficient, it is patently unfair, Dixon wrote.

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The motion asks for the case to be dismissed or for Thao to be found not guilty. The 42-year-old council member faces three misdemeanor counts of unlawfully marking a ballot, misconduct in and near polling places and unlawfully assisting a voter. Minnesota law prohibits candidates for office from assisting voters.

According to the motion, on Nov. 6, while Thao was running for mayor of St. Paul, he drove a 63-year-old Hmong woman who did not speak English to an early voting site and interpreted for her and for election judges as he helped her register to vote. The woman, who could not see well, asked Thao to help her vote, and he did.

Election judges knew who Dai Thao was and that he was a candidate, the motion said. Even so, the election judges said nothing and made no effort to stop Mr. Thao from assisting the elderly woman until after she had voted.

When an election judge told Thao that he couldnt assist voters, Thao responded, Oh, I didnt know, and explained that the woman had asked for his help, according to the motion. Thao had previously helped people vote before he was a council member, the motion said, and the state campaign manual he was provided did not say that candidates are prohibited from assisting voters.

The motion also argued that Thaos conduct is protected by the First and Fourteenth amendments and the federal Voting Rights Act, which allows voters to choose anyone to help them vote.

A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Aug. 13. Thao has said he will not resign his council seat, and a misdemeanor conviction would not require him to do so.

Emma Nelson 612-673-4509