Minnesota election deniers and skeptics are still skeptical, even after many worked the polls

By: - January 5, 2023 4:00 am
Minnesota State Elections Director David Maeda looks on as a woman yells about election fraud claims during a break in a Sherburne County Board meeting

Minnesota State Elections Director David Maeda looks on as a woman yells about election fraud claims during a break in a Sherburne County Board meeting Tuesday, July 12, 2022. (Photo by Nicole Neri / Minnesota Reformer.)

Minnesota Republicans recruited thousands of volunteers to work the polls during the November election, with the hope that having more eyes would help them win the prize.

It didn’t work in Minnesota — Republicans were crushed by Democrats, who took control of the Legislature and held onto the governor’s office and statewide elective offices.

Secretary of State Steve Simon encouraged people who had doubts about the integrity of Minnesota elections to work the polls, figuring they would walk away more confident after seeing all the safeguards.

The state GOP delivered, coming up with 7,800 potential election judges for the state to forward to local election administrators — more than twice as many as in 2020. The DFL only submitted about 200.

But election deniers remain: A radical offshoot of the Republican Party near Moorhead is still operating in defiance of the state party. And in Chaska, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell continues to rage against “voting machines” despite numerous court rulings and election reviews that found no significant problems.

Jonathan Aanestad, a Republican strategist who helped recruit and train thousands of election judges statewide through his nonprofit, Minnesota Election Integrity Solutions, says many signed up because they were skeptical of the 2020 election. Seeing the election up close — and undoubtedly, the results — didn’t change that.

“It has not alleviated a lot of the skepticism, I can say, absolutely,” he said. “The majority that I talked to are still skeptical.”

Poll workers made hundreds of reports of suspicious activity to the state party, he said. Most of them were benign, although a few raised eyebrows.

Aanestad said he’s still a skeptic based on “a lot of the stuff we’ve uncovered from 2020.”

Also still skeptical: Rick Weible, the former mayor of St. Bonifacius who traveled the state making discredited election fraud claims and pushing for changes to election procedures, hardware and software.

He led right-wing activists under the moniker “Swamp Watch,” mobilizing at the county level to encourage officials to drop ballot boxes and switch to hand counts of ballots.

Weible said there were election issues in “many counties,” with some violating the law by, for example, tabulating ballots before the polls closed.

He noted Dakota County had problems with its modems on election night, delaying their reporting of results. Dakota County Manager Matt Smith told the Star Tribune some cities and townships had modem transmission issues, so election workers had to hand-deliver memory cards to city and county offices.

Dakota County Elections Director Andy Lokken resigned after the election. Weible and a group called the Dakota County Patriots  targeted the county, convincing officials to stop using absentee ballot drop boxes and use partisan volunteers to work the polls rather than county employees. Prior to that, county employees did all the work.

Election deniers such as Republican secretary of state candidate Kim Crockett didn’t trust government workers, and pushed for more party-picked poll workers.

Lokken, the now-retired election administrator, could not be reached for comment.

“I know it was hard for him and he probably doesn’t like me,” Weible said of Lokken. “We were trying to work with him.”

Weible said because numerous counties rebuffed his group’s public records requests for election data, he doesn’t trust the election results: “When we are denied basic information, that doesn’t bode well.”

“They may actually be OK,” he said of the results. “It’s too early to tell because we don’t have the evidence of it yet.”

Lindell and other right-wing activists urged their supporters to ask for public records such as “cast vote records.” That’s a document that ballot machines can generate showing how election software read cast ballots. Election conspiracy theorists latched onto the records, believing they will show suspicious voting patterns. Experts say they’re wrong.

Activists filed a blizzard of data requests in Dakota County, many intended to verify the total number of voters using a list of registered voters and their voting histories. But those lists aren’t a reliable way to verify county vote totals; they’re used by campaigns to target voters.

Still, Weible conceded that most Minnesota elections were run properly, although he has issues with modem and public accuracy tests.

“Do I think that there needs to be more public access to understand how the machines work? Yes. Do I think that we’re using an improper test? Yes.”

Up in Clay County, a radical faction of the county Republican party who stood by former chair Edwin Hahn when he refused to step down is still meeting monthly and training people to get involved in politics.

Hahn was accused of harassing delegates, bullying people and putting his personal beliefs over the party platform, by opposing mask mandates at school board meetings, for example.

When he refused to step down, the state party canceled the Clay County convention and the Hahn faction held their own convention in a farmhouse, electing their own delegates to attend congressional and state conventions.

Meanwhile, Aanestad’s nonprofit is also pushing ahead. They filed a complaint alleging the Office of Secretary of State has an illegal contract with the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) to maintain the Statewide Voter Registration System.

Funded by state election agencies, ERIC is a nonpartisan nonprofit that helps states manage their voter rolls. Right-wing groups like the Thomas More Society view ERIC as a tool of the left for getting more progressive voters registered.

“In the state of Minnesota, they haven’t done a very good job because voter rolls are a disaster here,” Aanestad said.

A spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, Cassondra Knudson, disputed that, saying voter registrations are continuously updated with information from a range of state and federal offices, such as Driver and Vehicle Services, the Social Security Administration, the Minnesota Department of Health, court records and other states’ data. Voter addresses are also verified by postcard.

“We are confident in the accuracy of Minnesota’s voter rolls.” she said.

This story is was originally published by the Minnesota Reformer, part of States Newsroom network of news bureaus. It is republished here with permission.

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Deena Winter, Minnesota Reformer
Deena Winter, Minnesota Reformer

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.