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Fraud allegations in Franken-Coleman Senate election spur investigation -- but also overblown statements

Sen. Al Franken
REUTERS/Jason Reed
Sen. Al Franken

It is the race without an end.

A study of the Al Franken-Norm Coleman 2008 Senate race done by a conservative organization, Minnesota Majority, has led to Fox News reports with such headlines as “Felons Voting Illegally May Have Put Franken Over the Top.’’

The Fox reports also say that Phil Carruthers, a former DFL legislator who now is director of the Prosecution Division in the Ramsey County Attorney’s office, is conducting “a massive investigation of voter fraud.’’

And, not surprising, the state’s Republican Party is using all of this to attack DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

Some background:

• The Minnesota Majority did do a report finding that more than 400 felons may have voted illegally in the 2008 race.

• Carruthers is investigating the complaints and, in fact, has charged 28 people with voting illegally and will be investigating many more of the complaints.

Now, some context:

• In the hyper-excited Fox News reports, Carruthers is quoted as praising the Minnesota Majority study.

“What I said is that they did as well as they could do given the data they had, but much of their data is not good,” Carruthers said.

• Of the 475 cases Minnesota Majority questioned, 270 examples were just not accurate, Carruthers said.

There are reasons for so many inaccuracies, Carruthers said. For example, because of data privacy laws, Minnesota Majority was able only to get year of birth of many of the people they claimed had voted illegally. But, for the group to be sure it had the right individual, it would have needed the actual date of birth.

“In a state with so many Johnsons,’’ said Carruthers, “you have many people with the same name born in the same year. You have to have date of birth, to be sure you have the right person.’’

• Additionally, Carruthers said, Minnesota Majority would not have had access to changes in sentencing. For example, a person who initially had been sentenced to 10 years of probation may have had that probation reduced during the period of the sentence. At that point, the individual’s civil rights - including the right to vote - would have been restored.

Still, there were people who voted, or registered to vote, who were not eligible. That’s a felony, and if found guilty, they could face five years in prison and a $10,000, though Carruthers said that would be unlikely.

But again, in fact, the Ramsey County attorney’s office is investigating each complaint by the Minnesota Majority — as well as complaints made to the office by individuals.

“Basically, every election, we get complaints,” Carruthers said. “We take every complaint seriously.’’

Carruthers, it should be noted, believes that other county attorneys’ offices also likely will follow up on complaints of illegal voting.

The closesness of the 2008 Senate race, he believes, probably led to more complaints than usual, and certainly was the impetus of the Minnesota Majority study.

Not surprisingly, the state’s Republican Party is using the Minnesota Majority report and the hyper-way in which it was reported by Fox as fodder in the secretary of state race between incumbent DFLer Mark Ritchie and the Republican’s endorsed candidate, Dan Severson.

This was the statement today from Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton regarding the situation:

“Today’s report that the Ramsey County Attorney Office is undertaking a massive voter fraud investigation again underscores that Mark Ritchie has completely failed as Minnesota’ chief elections officer. During the 2008 election, Ritchie did not properly train local election officials which resulted in glaring disparities in how absentee ballots were counted statewide. Now we are finding out that many felons illegally cast ballots. While Ritchie continues to bury his head in the sand and pretend all is well, it’s time Minnesotans had a real reformer like Dan Severson as secretary of state. Dan is the only candidate in the race who will deliver on photo identification and reform our flawed elections system.”

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (27)

It's time to require voter ID at the polls. It's baffling that the Dems are against this simple and fair step for clamping down on voter fraud.

Republicans proved long ago that there's a point after which people stop caring about a stalled election result.

When I think of Norm Coleman, this always picks me up:

George Galloway at the US Senate Part 1


George Galloway at the US Senate Part 2

It has been pointed out, correctly, that it is not a given that every illegal vote went to Franken.

Too, the Minnesota Majority has said they do not expect the results of the election to be overturned, even if the illegal votes could be attributed to Franken (which, unless the guilty are willing to volunteer that information, we can't).

In any case, this information puts to rest the argument that "there is no voter fraud in Minnesota. With fraud established, the questions to be answered now are:

1. Does our "same day" registration, and lenient absentee voter provisions provide the sort of confusion that masks voter fraud?

2. Do proponents of voter ID have a valid point?

3. Were these felons given incentives to add to their felony records?

4. If so, by whom?

5. Why did it take a partisan think tank to uncover this fraud; where was Mark Ritchie?

Finally, I don't for a minute believe that Al Franken had a personal hand in this, but darn it, this mess does fit him like a glove.

This is being way over-blown. Its clear that this group delivered a large number of names with little or no proof they were ineligible voters. Still, given the number of "Felon" Republicans, who's to say they didn't vote for Coleman?

Entertaining, but watch to see how George Galloway fares in the court of Judge Judy.

Speaking of great orators, check this clip of Senator Franken on MinnPost. He looks well prepared and shows great passion for this cause.

Just a couple of thoughts: 1) FOX news has made itself into exactly the same kind of issue advocacy organization, working consistently for conservative rightwing causes that conservatives, themselves, have always accused the mainstream media of being on behalf of "liberal" causes (but which the MSM never actually was).

In other words, for the Weasels to be hyping this to the moon is about as unbiased as the latest bloviations of the "club for growth," or the average sign being carried at a Tea Party rally.

2) Although the report that's been produced raises many questions, as much about the inaccuracy of the report itself and the questionable methodology used to produce the result those who were producing the report desperately desired, despite the very limited availability of useful information, a great deal of further research needs to be pursued to discover if, indeed, any of the 28 individuals being charged with voting illegally were actually guilty of doing so, and if those who are being investigated might also be guilty of voting illegally.

The question which lingers in my mind, however, is based on my experience working with those who have been accused and/or convicted of routine felonies. Most of them, at least in the rural area where I live, can quite accurately be described as "red necks," loved Jesse Ventura, and, lacking any such candidate in the last election would, most likely have voted a straight Republican ticket. In other words, in my experience, convicted felons would almost certainly have voted for Coleman.

Fox -- long ago -- ceased being worthy of calling itself a "news" organization. It is pure and simple an extension of the right wing of the Republican Party.

Recently, they were caught in an outright lie, similar to this situation, when they broadcast an Acorn manager who was secretly taped presumably abetting prostitutes coming in over the Mexican border. They repeated the segment over and over to disparage Acorn. Problem was, they neglected to then show how the Acorn person immediately called the police to report the alleged impending crime.

The public has to be getting tired of this rubbish. It does nothing to solve our real problems; it only takes America down; it mixes fact and fiction to the point where media (and political) credibility is sinking to zero -- in short it is tiresome and disgusting.

We need to start legitimate and intelligent discourse on the real issues -- and solutions -- confronting America today.

In a word;.... DUH!!! I knew from the get-go this election was bought and paid for. I remember... oh a container with ballots in someones trunk for how many days... Oh I remember a lot of strange ballots coming out of nowhere. These people like like rugs.

Voter ID won't work either for two reasons. We have too many liberals here that will just work out a way to circumvent that. And the other is that ID's themselves can be forged.

We have a system in place that can work. However we have a liberal socialist government that does not want it to work. They want the illegals here so they can make instant citizens out of them that will vote for them in the upcoming elections.

If you think that the rest of us cannot see the blatant fraud and corruption going on here; your sadly mistaken.

Hell will be paid for starting in November. Talk has been spreading that the elections may even get called off due to some "national emergency" of which no one knows yet, but that is speculated to be Iran. I see this next election as being considerably more than double the fraud that the last one was. We will come up with a way and means to watch and attempt to prove corruption this coming election cycle assuming it goes through. And I hope after replacing the corrupt politicians, they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Mr Miles Spicer; Can I follow up with Fox regarding your statement;

Recently, they were caught in an outright lie, similar to this situation, when they broadcast an Acorn manager who was secretly taped presumably abetting prostitutes coming in over the Mexican border. They repeated the segment over and over to disparage Acorn. Problem was, they neglected to then show how the Acorn person immediately called the police to report the alleged impending crime.


Let's see if I have the reaction from the scary smart, reality based community straight, so far.

1.) Fox news is a tool of the GOP and it is only shouting this to the moon because the investigation is going to finger red-necked Republican felons.

2.) None of this matters, because Fox lies, so even if the red necks fail to turn up, it's still tiresome and disgusting.

3.) Acorn.

Oh boy, here comes the "ice-cream" headache.

Jeff K. wrote: "I remember... oh a container with ballots in someones trunk for how many days..."

This story has been found to be untrue, and reported to be untrue many, many times.

Yet Jeff repeats this falsehood ... in a post decrying how "these people" lie like rugs.

Oh, the irony. It burns!

There were factual and methodological questions raised about the report recently produced by a conservative advocacy organization (by yours truly) regarding felons voting in Ramsey County.

The fact that a decidedly conservative media advocacy organization ignored those questions and trumpeted the questionable results of that report as if Moses had just brought it down from the top of the Mountain of God is more than relevant to the overall story.

Seems to me in their analysis of the comments previously posted, some of the commentariat have been QUITE selective in what they, themselves have noticed and have tossed aside the most substantive and factual questions raised, in order to cling to their own point of view, however mistaken or misguided.

Jeff Kline (#8) See this Minnpost piece from last year dismantling the myth of ballots in the trunk of a car:

I just don't think 475 votes(which would be a worst case scenario in this specific situation) constitutes widespread fraud. The Franken-Coleman election was close enough where it could definitely make a difference and needs to be looked at further. And Ramsey Country attorney's office is doing exactly that.

But lets say for the sake of argument that all 475 votes are fraudulent votes on behalf of Democratic candidates. That is just a drop in the bucket compared to the margins most candidates win by; i.e. Obama winning the election by 1,573,354 votes to McCain's 1,275,409. Believe me, conservatives would have a field day if there was proof of 250,000-plus fruadulent votes in the 2008 Minnesota elections, but the fact is they can't.

The truth is the suspect cases of voter fraud are isolated, and in most cases don't hold any sway over an election. That's not to say voter fraud shouldn't be discouraged and stamped out wherever it is proven to exist. But let's not get our undies in a bunch before we hear the findings of this investigation.

Also, this talk of national elections getting called off because of an Iran-related crisis just sounds paranoid and delusional. Is there a media source actually saying this or is it just your own premonition?

The Conservative group makes outrageous claims based on thin evidence and expects to be taken seriously. Big surprise there. An intelligent mind, on the other hand, asks the right questions that get to the facts behind things.

Did the Conservative group look only at highly Democratic areas? If so, claims of Franken campaign fraud are dishonest. All areas would have to be looked at and since we don't have that information no judgment can be made.

Is there a baseline of felons who try to vote illegally in all elections? How does this compare with the numbers in the 2008 Senate race? We don't know so no conclusion can be drawn, though it has not stopped the GOP from doing just that.

Why would this group expect to be taken seriously in their claims if they had only state information and not full address info? Why would an honest thinker even attempt to suggest these names as any kind of evidence?

Is there any evidence that the Franken campaign had a program to seek out felons and get them to polls? -No. To suggest so without evidence is dishonest. Anyone who witnessed the election of George Bush, on the other hand, is aware of felon lists being used by GOP Sec State Catherine Harris to knowingly prevent thousands of legal voters with names similar to felons names from voting.

So the claim that Franken "stole" the election should be viewed by any intelligent person as a bald faced attempt to fool voters. The conclusions one might draw about this Conservative group are that 1) they are sincere but simply unskilled in logical thought and/or 2) they are intentionally trying to fool voters.

Mitch reminds us the David Brauer dismantled the car myth; for the record:

The ballots were only in the car for a little while...and then a little more, but only a little.

Thanks to David, we know....


See? Myth completely debunked, destroyed, even.

Tom, far be it from me to interrupt your regular seances with Mitch, but recall that the myth was the Reichert had the ballots in her car for several days, tossed there like a McDonald's bag.

The truth was:

1. The ballots were never in her car

2. They were never in anyone's car for several days

3. They were never lost or forgotten.

4. Because absentee ballots (until this year) have to be counted in the precincts, they have to be driven to a central collection point (for cities that warehouse thusly). This is true not just of Mpls, but many Mn localities.

The original story is here. And remember Norm's lawyer saw no prob with any of this:

I get the constant attempt to rewrite history and discredit, but it doesn't speak well to one's love of facts.

I don't think any of us believe there is zero vote fraud. Zero is always an unobtainable goal whenever you talk about people. However, I think what needs to be weighed here is how many legitimate people would be denied the right to vote if we required ID. Probably a lot more than the 28 votes that appear to be illegal.

Would we really like to see 2,000 elderly and poor denied the right to vote so we can keep 28 felons from voting.

Jeremy Powers - good post. The challenge in creating an effective voter ID requirement is in designing a system that doesn't disenfranchise legal voters. There is an argument that any ID requirement for an ID that the voter has paid for (like a driver's license) amounts to a de facto poll tax - which would make it illegal. So then you need to fund a government-issued voter ID for all legal voters. In Minnesota, there's an additional challenge due to same-day voter registration. Can that convenience exist within the constraints of a system that requires an ID? Probably, but I don't hear much concern about that from the champions of voter IDs.

then, regarding this nightmare:
"Also, this talk of national elections getting called off because of an Iran-related crisis just sounds paranoid and delusional. Is there a media source actually saying this or is it just your own premonition?"

I recall the sides were flipped in 2004, at least, and to a lesser degree in 2008 as well, that the then-current administration was going to pull a similar stunt. As I recall, it didn't happen. But nobody should let a good paranoic fantasy die a lonesome death, unexpressed.

Remember this felon voting for Coleman story from the recount?

My observations here. The liberal dems disbelieve anyone who is not like them. Period. They are on a train track and the locomotive is on full steam ahead and no stopping.

I've encountered a lot of so-called educated democrats that still seem to spew the same thing as the libs. They must believe in the stuff they were taught. That I guess is what comes with union teachers who subscribe to what they were taught... communism, socialism, Marxism, et al.

I really see a large "Continental Divide" between folks even here in MN. It's almost like if your democrat here, your a huge liberal. If your conservative, your hugely conservative.

Ah, yes! Psychological projection at its finest!

If one were to search for those whose attitudes seem to be causing them to run full speed ahead in lock step with others of like mind regardless of massive amounts of well-verified factual information to the contrary, the search for such among "liberals" would be a snipe hunt at best.

The tendency among liberals is that if you put two of us in a room, you're likely to find three opinions on any given subject.

Among the Tea Party and/or Republican crowd, however, such like-minded individuals seem to find and cling to each other, ever more tightly as the actual-reality world threatens, more and more, to intrude on their alternate-reality universe.

I'd say this race is not so much about the settled senatorial recount, but rather a Republican effort to demonize the wonderful Mark Ritchie to such a degree that Minnesotans will vote for his predecessor, Mary Kiffmeyer -- she of the preference for working to keep voters away from the polls instead of facilitating their access of this privilege.

A study of illegal voting in, I believe, nine states a few years ago revealed only about 20 fraudulent votes. That's how likely voter fraud is in reality.

Bingo, Bernice! We should take it as a good sign that the Conservatives have to gin up a flimsy controversy because they have nothing real to hang on Ritchie.

For fun, Google Images "Kiffmeyer Riverview Community bank painting" for a painting of Supply Side Jesus inking a deal, hanging on the wall of the "Christ centered" bank Kiffmeyer was a board member at that the Minnesota Department of Commerce closed. More on the bank closing:

Since this is a moderated board, I suggest that the moderators refuse to post messages such as some of those above that are mainly snide remarks. By the way, good posts David Brauer, Jeremy Powers, Brian Simon, and Bernice Vetsch— factual and provocative. Finally, I leave you with the words of Coleman's attorney Joe Friedberg who was asked by Justice Anderson of the MN Supreme Court near the end of oral argument in the Coleman/Franken case, "is there any evidence of any fraud, any favoritism, or anything other than that the elections officials here in Minnesota tried to do the best job possible in applying the law?" Friedberg's answer? " Absolutely not. Absolutely not. And there’s no voter fraud. There’s no election fraud."

How would requiring picture identification stop felons from voting? If felons did vote, they did so under their own names.

Thanks, Elizabeth (#24). Pretty good post yourself. I had forgotten that.

Some convicted felons can vote in Minnesota, it seems the state is not doing it's job in notifying those felons, and are these the felons they are refering too? people need to take the time to read the law.

Restoration of a Felon’s Civil Rights
Once individuals are convicted of a felony, they can only regain their right
to participate in the electoral process by having their civil rights restored.
The restoration of civil rights is controlled by Minn. Stat. § 609.165:
Subdivision 1. When a person has been deprived of civil
rights by reason of conviction of a crime and is thereafter
discharged, such discharge shall restore the person to all civil
In Minnesota, a citizen is
automatically disenfranchised
if he or she is incarcerated or
on probation or parole for a
felony conviction.
A person committed to prison
cannot vote while in prison or
while on parole. The convicted
felon cannot vote until his or
her civil rights are restored.
Once individuals are
convicted of a felony, they
can only regain their right to
participate in the electoral
process by having their civil
rights restored.
rights and to full citizenship, with full right to vote and hold
office, the same as if such conviction had not taken place,
and the order of discharge shall so provide.
Subdivision 2. The discharge may be:
· By order of the court following stay of sentence or
stay of execution of sentence; or
· Upon expiration of sentence.
The defining point of when a person’s civil rights are restored is relatively
clear: either the individual completes his or her sentence or the district court
issues an order discharging the person from probation. What is not clear is
how the convicted felon and local election officials are notified that the
individual’s civil rights have been restored, and thus, that he or she can
participate in the electoral process.
For persons sentenced to prison, the Commissioner of Corrections is obliged
under law to notify all parolees that their sentence has expired and their civil
rights have been restored. During the course of research, and based on
informal interviews with Department of Corrections representatives, the
practice appears to be to prepare and send a form letter to every parolee as
part of the procedure followed in discharging the parolee from his or her
parole. The letter states, in part:
On (DATE), (COUNTY) District Court sentenced you to
the Commissioner of Corrections. Because that sentence is
completed as of (DATE), pursuant to Minnesota Statute
Section 609.165, all of your civil rights and full citizenship,
right to vote and hold public office, are restored . . .
For those individuals who are not sentenced to prison but are placed on
probation, the district court must sign an order discharging the probationer
from probation when the sentence is complete. This discharge order will
inform the ex-felon that his or her civil liberties and voting rights have been
restored. The probation department and the court administrator receive a
copy of this order. The court administrator enters the information into the
computer system and files the order. We randomly contacted a handful of
counties to determine how the probationer was notified that he or she had
completed probation and that his or her rights were restored. There was no
consistent procedure among them. Some probation departments sent the
order to the probationer, but others relied on the court administrator to
send the order to the probationer. Some court administrator offices just file
the order and do not mail it to the probationer. There appeared to be no
consistency to how and even if the probationer is notified that his or her