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Fraud! Suppression! Aspersions! Dueling press conferences wake up a sleepy secretary of state race

Like a little excitement in your election season? On Tuesday, the race for Minnesota secretary of state erupted into flaming talk of voter suppression and fraud at back-to-back (to back) news conferences.

Dan Severson
Dan Severson

Finding the current election cycle a little boring? Then you might want to start paying closer attention to the race for Minnesota secretary of state, which erupted into flaming talk of voter suppression and fraud at dueling news conferences Tuesday.

Unbeknownst to each other, Republican secretary of state candidate Dan Severson had scheduled a 10 a.m. news conference, while DFL party chair Ken Martin had scheduled his own 11 a.m. newser to talk about the secretary of state race. In the same room.

As it turned out, the back-to-back pressers were actually back to back to back. First Severson. Then Martin. Then Severson again.

Initially, Severson had planned to devote his news event to the subject of voter participation among members of the military. Among other things, Severson contends that President Barack Obama’s administration, current secretary of state Mark Ritchie and DFL secretary of state candidate Rep. Steve Simon have all participated in efforts to suppress voting by members of the military.

A rebuke and rebuttal

But at 11 a.m., Severson moved to the back of the room in the state office building in St. Paul as the DFL’s Martin moved to the front. At that news conference, Martin rebuked Severson for claiming that DFLers are winning elections with fraudulent votes. 

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Martin said that at a Tea Party event in June, Severson claimed that Sen. Al Franken had won his 2008 election as a result of voter fraud. At that same meeting, Martin said, Severson claimed the DFL had re-captured control of the Legislature also because of fraudulent votes.

“The last thing we need is a conspiracy theorist as secretary of state,’’ Martin said. “I call on [GOP gubernatorial candidate] Jeff Johnson and [Republican Party Chair] Keith Downey to refute Severson’s unfounded and irresponsible allegations. I question Severson’s ability to be secretary of state when he makes dangerous allegations of crimes that don’t exist.’’

After Martin was done, Severson marched back to the front of the room. He did not deny that he has made the claims cited by Martin.

“I’m not casting aspersions,’’ Severson said. “I’m saying let’s solve the problem.’’

An aspersion-like ring

But suggesting that DFLers win races because they cheat sounds a bit like an aspersion. And suggesting that DFLers are attempting to suppress military votes also had something of an aspersion-like ring to it.

“I have grave doubts [about the integrity of the system],’’ Severson said. “I was at a meeting of about 100 people last night and asked, ‘How many of you think there’s voter fraud?’ Everyone raised their hand.’’

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin
DFL Party Chair Ken Martin

But Severson said it’s not just his observations at campaign rallies that cause him to have doubts about the integrity of the system. He cited the “study” of an organization called Minnesota Majority that claimed there were more than 6,000 fraudulent voters in the 2008 Senate race in which, after a recount, Al Franken defeated incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman by just over 300 votes.

A series of studies, however, has found that the Minnesota Majority report was not accurate. And in his press conference Tuesday, Martin pointed out that in the recounts of the Coleman-Franken race and the Tom Emmer-Mark Dayton race of 2010, both parties “spent millions of dollars” as ballots across the state were recounted.

“Not a single instance of voter fraud was found,’’ Martin said.

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The absentee ballot

What of the charge of suppressing military voters? Severson said another reason for Franken’s victory over Coleman is that about 300 military absentee ballots were not counted.

Beyond that, Severson said, there’s low voter turnout among Minnesotans serving overseas because of complexities in the system. And as chairman of the House Elections committee, Simon did nothing to address the problems in the last session, said Severson.

Martin countered with a series of charges: First, that when Severson was a member of the House, he did not write a single bill supporting changes in military voting. Second, that as a state representative, he voted against moving the primary from September to August, a move that was crucial to opening up the absentee process to those in the military. And third, that the Pentagon has praised Minnesota for its efforts to improve voter participation among those in the military.

Charge of ‘a death-bed conversion’

He accused Severson, who is a retired military vet, of “a death-bed conversion’’ on the entire military voting issue.

Severson was short on stats regarding military voting. He wants Minnesota to adopt a voting system for members of the military that is similar to the one used in Arizona. In that state, those serving in the military can vote online. But Severson didn’t know whether Arizona has higher participation among those serving than Minnesota. Nor did he know how much such a system would cost.

Severson did say that about 15 per cent of Minnesotans in the military voted in local elections in 2008, a number that fell to about 5 percent in the off-year election of 2010.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the dueling news conferences is what other signals were trying to be sent. Did Severson schedule his as a desperate bid to tie himself to the military and to inflame those in his GOP base convinced DFLers only win because they cheat? Did Martin schedule his because the DFL is concerned that Simon needs to raise the profile of a down-ticket race?