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Minnesota’s GOP leaders continue to struggle with saying the 2020 election was legitimate

What two Minnesota Senate resolutions say about where the parties are, even as Joe Biden is sworn in as president. 

A National Guard armored vehicle blocks off a street on the south side of the Minnesota State Capitol on January 19. Security has been heightened after the riot at the U.S. Capitol and the "Storm the Capitol rally" at the Minnesota State Capitol on January 6.
A National Guard armored vehicle blocks off a street on the south side of the Minnesota State Capitol on January 19. Security has been heightened after the riot at the U.S. Capitol and the "Storm the Capitol rally" at the Minnesota State Capitol on January 6.

Two resolutions before the Minnesota Senate say a lot about the 2020 election. And the reaction to it. 

The first, introduced last week by Sen. Melisa Lopez Franzen, DFL-Edina, asked the chamber to condemn the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — and declare that lawmakers accept the results of the 2020 election. Or as the resolution states, that “the peaceful transfer of power has been a foundation and hallmark of presidential elections, and we are committed to upholding the results of the free and fair election that was just held.” 

The second, alternative resolution was offered by GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake. It also condemned the Capitol invasion, but it also included language that was different from Franzen’s.

“Whereas, the peaceful transfer of power has been a foundation and hallmark of presidential elections,” it stated, “… we are committed to ensuring the integrity of free and fair elections in Minnesota; and … the discourse of all elected officials should be aimed at promoting the common good.”

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To Franzen, the lack of any mention in Gazelka’s resolution about the election results and the inclusion of language regarding election “integrity” — a reference to Republican allegations of voting irregularities — is not a minor difference.  

“They introduced their own resolution striking literally the section that talks about free and fair elections and adding much more broad language,” Franzen said Tuesday during  a DFL-sponsored press conference. 

“They do not want to acknowledge it as a caucus,” she said of the election results. “That is pretty sad because that is what we need to move forward. A resolution has a strong voice when it comes from both parties in the only divided Legislature in the country.”

Officials ‘don’t get to decide if people are wrong’

Those two resolutions illustrate where Democrats and Republicans now stand, in Minnesota and nationally, even as Joe Biden takes office. 

Democrats point to court cases; recounts; examinations by state elections officials; investigations by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and the Electoral College to show that allegations of a stolen election have been broadly disproven. And they draw a straight line between Republican allegations about voter fraud to misinformation about the election — from President Donald Trump down to state legislators — that fueled the mob violence at the U.S. Capitol.

“Our democracy worked,” said Rep. Emma Greenman, a DFLers from Minnesota and an election law attorney. “Yet we’ve seen the dangerous consequences when leaders irresponsibly amplify misinformation, doubt and the voter-fraud lie to undermine faith in our government.”

Minnesota Republicans were quick to condemn the violence in D.C., but slightly less quick to condemn violent rhetoric at a “Storm the Capitol” rally that took place in St. Paul on the same day. 

And though some have blamed Donald Trump for inciting the mob that descended on Washington, D.C. to rally on his behalf, not as many will declare that November’s election was fair — and that Joseph Biden was the legitimate winner. 

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“A lot of people felt it was not a fair election,” Gazelka said at a public forum on Jan. 11. “There’s just a number of issues that have been pointed to.” 

But Gazelka also said the system — of each state validating results, the electors casting ballots and the U.S. Congress counting those ballots — worked, and compared Republicans’ anger about the 2020 results with Hillary Clinton supporters complaining in 2016 of Russian interference. 

The difference between the two is that there has been no court-accepted evidence of organized or widespread election fraud. Russian interference, whether decisive or not, was found by eight U.S. intelligence agencies.

“Anytime you have a very, very, very close election, you’re gonna have a lot of frustration and I think it is important that we listen,” Gazelka said.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said at the same forum that he said publicly “weeks ago” that Biden was going to be the president. “I don’t think anybody’s foolish actions, either here in St. Paul or in Washington, D.C., were going to change that,” Daudt said. 

But elected officials “don’t get to decide if people are wrong and shouldn’t have the opinions they have.” Instead, he said, they need to recognize that a large number of people think the election wasn’t fair.

The battle over witness signatures

In Minnesota, talk of issues and irregularities usually means a decision in the summer of 2020 by the Secretary of State, prompted by the courts, to end the requirement that voters who mailed in ballots had to have someone witness their ballot signature.

In his comments, Daudt cited a law passed last May that had bipartisan support to promote and advance mail-in voting as a response to the pandemic. But that deal stopped short of establishing a universal mail-in balloting system, as some in the DFL wanted, and it did not change the witness signature requirement for those voting by mail.

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Lawsuits over Minnesota’s witness requirement, however, convinced the courts that the provision was unfair for voters locked-down during a pandemic, and the requirement was waived. “Now all of a sudden the courts are determining election law,” Daudt said. 

Republicans who cite that litigation when talking about problems with the election, however, do not usually note that the witness requirement is not actually how Minnesota confirms that a registered voter is the person who cast a ballot. Rather, witnesses simply certify that the ballot was blank to start with; was cast in private; and sealed without anyone else seeing it. 

To confirm a registered voter’s ballot was cast by that person, Minnesota has voters pick an identifying number — usually a driver’s license, social security or passport number — that must be included on their outer envelope along with their own signature.

For a mail-in ballot to be fraudulently cast, then, a person would have to steal a ballot, forge a signature — and know a voter’s identifying number. What’s more, that ballot would be nullified if the person whose ballot was stolen requested a new one. In challenges to the Minnesota results, no evidence has ever been presented of vote theft related to witness signatures. 

‘We can’t perpetuate … this myth-making’

That line of argument — that Biden is the next president but that there were irregularities — is what DFLers have been most critical of. “Basically, those have been allegations of allegations,” said Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury. 

All such allegations have been heard by courts and canvass boards and found lacking, Kent noted. And all have been looked at by state officials and by Trump’s own Justice Department. DFLers suggested they want more Republicans to deny claims of a stolen election as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did on the Senate floor Tuesday

“Because so many millions of Americans now believe, because they have been told by their leaders that this election was rigged and unfair, they’re responding to that,” Kent said. “We have to recognize that we have a real responsibility to deal with facts, to deal with truth…we can’t perpetuate — for political purposes — this myth-making.”

Kent’s reference to political purposes was a nod to the problem facing many GOP elected officials. While they might not believe the allegations, they often have an electorate that does. Polls show large majorities of Republicans don’t trust the election results, and state party organizations have an even higher concentration of Trump loyalists who will accept no equivocation

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For some, questioning whether fraud happened or stating that Biden’s win is legitimate comes at a political cost, as Trump has already threatened to go after Republicans who didn’t vote to overturn the results or who voted to impeach him last week.

That has led many GOP leaders to parse their statements: to both accept the outcome of the election while not criticising Republicans who don’t. But it has also opened GOP leaders to criticism that they are fanning the flames of unrest and allowing louder voices to fill the rhetorical gap. 

That dynamic was on display Tuesday. After the DFL press conference, two members of the New Republican Caucus — elected Minnesota House Republicans who do not caucus with Daudt’s GOP members — reiterated the claims of fraud based on the witness signature requirement.

And earlier this week, possible GOP candidate for governor and MyPillow founder and CEO Mike Lindell was quoted in the New York Times welcoming a defamation lawsuit by elections equipment company Dominion Voting Systems, saying it would give him a chance to reveal the evidence he has of election fraud. This is the same person who, days earlier, visited the White House and was seen with notes that appeared to call on Trump to declare martial law and stop the transfer of the presidency to Biden.

That led a Republican campaign operative to Tweet this on Friday:

And the divide isn’t limited to the last election, as it has extended to how the Legislature is looking to conduct future elections.

For DFLers, the issue is a lack of election access, an issue the party is trying to remedy with a bill, HF9, that would reinstate voting rights for convicted felons upon release from incarceration; that would allow absentee voters to get a ballot each election rather than just an application for a ballot; that would increase the number of ballot drop boxes in the state; that would allow the counting of ballots postmarked by election day for up to seven days; that would expand voter intimidation and interference protections; and that would give voters “Democracy Dollars” that can be donated to candidates of their choice.

Mike Lindell, CEO of My Pillow, standing outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, on January 15.
REUTERS/Erin Scott
Mike Lindell, CEO of My Pillow, standing outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, on January 15.
For Republicans, the issue is election security, which Gazelka has called his caucus’ top priorities besides passing a state budget and redistricting. A bill they’ve proposed, SF 173 would require a voter ID that requires proof of residency and citizenship in order to register and to vote; a new system for provisional ballots; and recodification of the mail-in ballot witness requirement requiring witnesses to verify that a Voter ID was presented.

Gazelka has called this one of his caucuses top priorities along with a state budget and redistricting.