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The conservative activist group Minnesota Majority issues a report claiming that Senator Al Franken (D-MN) won the hotly contested recount for the Minnesota seat (see June 30, 2009) because of votes cast by felons voting illegally in Minneapolis-St. Paul. According to the report, at least 341 convicted felons who had lost the right to vote cast their votes for Franken in the 2008 race (see November 4-5, 2008). Franken was found to have won the race by 312 votes. If the votes allegedly cast illegally were deducted from the final vote tally, Franken’s opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) would be the winner, the report says. Minnesota Majority makes its claim after studying publicly available conviction lists and voting records. The group claims that attempts to secure an investigation by state and federal authorities have been “stonewalled.” Minnesota Majority executive director Dan McGrath says: “We aren’t trying to change the result of the last election. That legally can’t be done. We are just trying to make sure the integrity of the next election isn’t compromised.” McGrath complains that prosecutors in Ramsey and Hennepin Counties have ignored their findings, including a list of hundreds of allegedly illegal voters from those counties. A spokesman for the county attorney’s offices says the group’s information is “just plain wrong” and full of errors. McGrath says the group went back and double-checked its records after being told that its findings were wrong. He says: “What we did this time is irrefutable. We took the voting lists and matched them with conviction lists and then went back to the records and found the roster lists, where voters sign in before walking to the voting booth, and matched them by hand. The only way we can be wrong is if someone with the same first, middle, and last names, same year of birth as the felon, and living in the same community, has voted. And that isn’t very likely.”
County Prosecutors: Group's Claims Largely Erroneous - Phil Carruthers, Ramsey County’s lead prosecutor, says his office is taking the allegations seriously and praises the group for doing “a good job in [its] review.” But, Carruthers notes, the group lacks access to nonpublic information, and that information shows that almost all of the names on the list are of eligible voters. For example, Carruthers says, “public records might show a felon was given 10 years probation, but internal records the county attorney has might show that the probation period was cut to five and the felon was eligible to vote.” Carruthers says Ramsey County is filing charges against 28 people for illegally voting, with more charges possible. McGrath says: “Prosecutors have to act more swiftly in prosecuting cases from the 2008 election to deter fraud in the future, and the state has to make sure that existing system, that flags convicted felons so voting officials can challenge them at the ballot, is effective. In 90 percent of the cases we looked at, the felons weren’t flagged. If the state had done that, things might be very different today.” (Barnes 7/12/2010)
Governor Weighs In, Implying Franken Won Illegally - Two days after the allegations surface in the press, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) says the organization may have found “credible evidence” of voter fraud. On Fox News, Pawlenty says of the allegedly illegal votes: “I suspect they favored Al Franken. I don’t know that. But if that turned out to be true they may have flipped that election in a very close election.” Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund has stated flatly on Fox that “hundreds of felons” gave Franken the victory. But Carruthers tells a reporter, “Overwhelmingly, their statistics were not accurate.” Deputy Hennepin County Attorney Pat Diamond adds: “It’s produced a lot of smoke. But at the end of the day, I don’t know if it’s going to produce a lot of fire.” Carruthers says that the list of 480 suspected felons was obviously wrong from the outset, and 270 were removed upon a cursory review. Many other cases were examples of mistaken identity, or the list not taking into account felons who had their right to vote restored. The 28 cases flagged by Carruthers for potential prosecution had already been identified before he received Minnesota Majority’s list, he says. Diamond says much the same of the list of alleged illegal voters in Hennepin County.
Allegations Being Made for Political Purposes? - Local reporter John Croman notes that the allegations are being used by conservatives to push for restrictive voter ID laws. He writes: “Valid ID is needed to register, but not to vote. And yet both of the prosecutors [Carruthers and Diamond] pointed out there’s nothing to keep a felon from using legal ID to vote illegally.” While Minnesota Majority is blaming Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) for the alleged felon voting, Diamond says Ritchie has worked diligently to make the state’s voting rolls more accurate and current. “He’s gotten the system into this century, so it’s actually much easier to prevent felons from voting now,” Diamond says. “I’m going to trial in August with two cases of felons who voted, that were flagged by election workers.” Law professor David Schultz says Pawlenty’s response is surprising: “One, it makes an assumption that it’s been proven that these felons have voted illegally, which isn’t the case. And, two, it makes the assumption that these felons voted overwhelmingly in favor of Franken.” Schultz says he believes Pawlenty is posturing for his upcoming presidential bid: “There’s a certain segment of the population, people who believe Democrats can’t win unless felons and immigrants vote illegally. He’s trying to appeal to that group to further his presidential campaign.” But if that is the case, Schultz says, Pawlenty is casting aspersions on the integrity of Minnesota’s election system for political gain. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune 7/14/2010; Croman 7/15/2010)
Months Later, Six Charges Filed - In October 2010, six felons in Hennepin County will be charged with voting illegally (see October 21, 2010).
The Minnesota branch of the nonpartisan voting rights organization Common Cause files a complaint against the conservative voting activist group Minnesota Majority, claiming that the nonprofit group broke state law by not registering itself as a lobbying organization. Minnesota Majority is working to implement restrictive voter ID laws in Minnesota. In 2010, the group falsely claimed that felons voting illegally gave Al Franken (D-MN) the victory in the state’s hotly contested 2008 US Senate race (see July 12-14, 2010). Mike Dean of Common Cause Minnesota says: “Minnesota Majority has been caught red-handed in an effort to circumvent Minnesota lobbyist laws. It is time for the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board to more effectively enforce Minnesota’s rules for lobbyists.” The complaint states that Minnesota Majority executive director Dan McGrath should have registered himself as a lobbyist. In recent court filings, McGrath said he started working with legislators “to construct and promote” a photo ID bill for voters in November 2010. The legislature passed the bill in 2012, which places a state constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot that would require Minnesotans to show photo ID before voting. McGrath says the complaint is ridiculous, and says he merely offered “expert advice” to legislators on the subject of voter ID. “I’m not a lobbyist,” he says. “A lobbyist would be somebody paid by a corporation to twist arms at the Legislature.” According to state law, a lobbyist is someone who is paid more than $3,000 to lobby, or who spends more than $250 on lobbying or more than 50 hours a month on lobbying. Common Cause says McGrath and Minnesota Majority have spent “significant time and money lobbying in support of the voter ID amendment.” State law prohibits the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, the entity that is charged with investigating such complaints, from commenting on them until it has ruled. The board’s executive director, Gary Goldsmith, says that there are executive directors of nonprofits who appear at the Capitol to speak about legislation but do not meet the definition of a lobbyist. “It’s fairly easy to separate the pros from the ordinary Joes” when it comes to lobbying, he says. (Brooks 7/4/2012)
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