Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Did Minnesota Experience Significant Voter Fraud in 2008?

There have been many commentators including one in the Wall Street Journal this week who have noted the very strange manner, and the multiple inconsistencies involved in the conducting of the recount process in the Minnesota United States Senate race this year.
Strange things keep happening in Minnesota, where the disputed recount in the Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken may be nearing a dubious outcome. Thanks to the machinations of Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and a meek state Canvassing Board, Mr. Franken may emerge as an illegitimate victor.
And, there has been a lot of talk about the potential of fraud, but very little in the way of actual proof.

The proof of fraud may lie in the manner in which Minnesota conducts their elections, including the same day registration system, of which they are very proud. The fraud, in other words, may have involved large-scale voting by people who were illegitimately registered. Therefore, we have looked at the results from a different angle, focusing on some specific totals and asking the question, "Was this possible?"

In some cases, we think it simply was not possible.

The results of voter fraud -- the kind where someone casts an illicit ballot -- has precisely the same evil effect on other voters and candidates, as when an individual is unlawfully prevented from voting in the first place.

Depending on the choice marked in the unlawful ballot, one other voter's legitimate selection will either be improperly enhanced, or completely negated by the actual casting of that illegal vote. It just depends on for whom the unlawful vote was cast. Likewise, a legitimate voter's selection would either be improperly enhanced, or negated through the action of refusing to permit a lawful voter to cast a ballot in the first place. The result is the same.

If Joe, who is not legitimately registered in Happy Town, nevertheless cast a vote there, and he voted for Creepy Carl, Joe illegally enhanced Creepy Carl's chances. And in doing so, he also negated the entirely legal vote of Jill, who cast her ballot for Happy Harry.

But we Americans tend not to focus at all on the consequestional equivalence of those two somewhat different forms of voter fraud.

Our focus is almost always aimed at preventing some form of invidious discrimination, whereby someone is illegally prevented from voting in the first place. And even when there are valid actions taken by election officials to merely check identification to be sure someone is a legitimate voter, we are sometimes tempted to look on that as a hassle, perhaps even rising to the level of harassment. If it were in any way systematic, we would tag it as "voter suppression."

The fact is, however, that large, or even small scale voter suppression is nearly impossible today. And despite sometimes wild claims of incidents of "voter suppression," invariably made by one particular political party, not a single such instance has been documented in recent memory in this country.

But voter fraud involving illicitly registered voters is an entirely different thing. If a considerable number of ballots are cast by "registrants" who are not permitted to vote, the entire system can be and would be compromised. And it is our democratic system that is compromised, not just one candidate or the other.

Minnesota - 2008 Election

There were some strange anomalies that occurred in the voting system in Minnesota on November 4th of this year. The officials at the precinct and county levels who operated the system, all attended training courses in how to run the system at their levels, as it required under Minnesota law. But in the crush of filing their reports this year, it is clear that many committed errors that in some ways question the trustworthiness of the system. In a highly intense Presidential year, as this one was, even the best system can experience cracks under the pressure.

There is evidence that many such cracks occurred in Minnesota this year, and the result in the United States Senate race may well have been completely compromised.

Looking at the actual numbers reported this year, one has an unmistakable sense that some voter fraud was committed. That is certainly a conclusion that reasonable people could draw. In mid-October it was reported that ACORN, which claimed to have registered 43,000 of the new registered voters in Minnsota this year, was being investigated in Hennepin County (where Minneapolis is located) for possible criminal violations, given unexplained late registration reporting of new registrations -- or, as noted by Ed Morrissey at HotAir, suddenly dumping 1,000 or more new "registrations on the county board after the deadline."

One Minnesota watchdog group, called Minnesota Majority, has made a number of specific charges in regard to new registrants, some before and some since the election. Specifically, they have called for an end to "same day" registrations based on evidence they say they now have regarding bogus registration addresses, double voting, potential duplicate registrations, deficiencies in voter registration information, and other irregularities. They outlined their specific findings and objectives regarding the voting system in Minnesota on their website, and have recently sent their proof to the Secretary of State and numerous countys. In addition, they have called for an investigation of what they allege are violations of the federal "Help America Vote Act" (HAVA), modelled on the findings of a joint federal-state task force that conducted such an investigation (pdf) in 2005 in neighboring Wisconsin.

We have no way of assessing their information, or the validity of their claims. Nor do we have any connection whatsoever with Minnesota Majority. But what we have been able to put together, just based on data supplied to the Secretary of State this election, suggests that it has reported puzzling, and in some instances downright questionable data this year.

Minnesota currently has a "same day" registration system, one of the most liberal of it's kind in the nation, and one that has been in effect for many years. Here are the specific requirements for registering to vote on election day, as posted on the website of the Secretary of State of Minnesota.

It outlines the circumstances under which potential voters who, for whatever reason, had not registered 20 days or more prior to the election (on October 15th or earlier), could show up on election day itself, and register to vote. The number of people who did so statewide, was quite extraordinary.

For the purposes of this discussion, we focused primarily on one county -- St. Louis county.

In order to establish their residency in a municipality, applicants who are 18, have lived in a precinct for 20 days or more, and are not otherwise disqualified (alien, felon, etc.) are permitted to show any one of several forms of currently valid identification. Or, alternatively, they could show two pieces of identification, one of which could even be an expired driver license (as long as it has a photo), together with a current utility bill, in order to sign up and vote right then.

And even without presenting any identification, a voter may still be able to fully register and vote that day, so long as some pre-registered voter in the town or city "vouches" for him or her. In effect, any previously registered resident can file an affidavit swearing that you are a resident of that voting precinct. Or, as it is specified at the Secretary of State's office, an otherwise eligible voter is to be registered to vote if:
"A voter registered in the same precinct as you who can confirm your address with a signed oath."
Here is the full list of basic identification requirements, any one of which qualifies you to "same day" register, as they are posted at the website of the Secretary of State:

To register at your polling place on Election Day, you must have one of the following with your current name and address in the precinct to verify your residence:

• A valid Minnesota driver’s license, learner’s permit, Minnesota ID card, or receipt for any of these

• A valid student ID card including your photo, if your college has provided a student housing list to election officials

• A Tribal ID card that contains your picture and signature

• A valid registration in the same precinct under a different name or address

• A notice of late registration sent to you by your county auditor or city clerk

• A voter registered in the same precinct as you who can confirm your address with a signed oath

• An employee of the residential facility where you live who can confirm your address with a signed oath
There are also certain permissible "combinations" including less reliable ID that are permitted as well (e.g., an expired photo id, together with a current utility bill.)

Some local jurisdictions post their own versions of the requirements on their local websites as well. For example, here is a summary of those "requirements" as posted ("click" for pdf) on the website of the City Of Proctor, a small community with a current population of only 2,819 people (2007 Census estimate), located a few miles outside of Duluth.

But the point is that John Smith, pre-registered voter, says that Bill Jones, an unregistered applicant, lives in that precinct in that town, and if John signs a document to that effect, that's it. Bill is required to be registered by that jurisdiction, and he gets to vote there that very day.

Now to some, this sort of process encourages participation in democracy. Are their any safeguards? The promoters would say so, such as that a voter who is vouched for on election day cannot thereafter turn around and "vouch for" a new voter.

But there is nothing to stop a previously registered voter from "vouching" for several people. Perhaps if they did not want to draw too much attention, they would limit the number they would vouch for. According to one local official we interviewed in Proctor, Minnesota, a small town just west of Duluth, there is now a limit of 15 per pre-registered voter. But point is that a few rabid partisans, previously registered in a town, can easily corrupt the entire process by "vouching" for a significant number of new voters who are perhaps paid to come in and stuff the ballot box!

If you moved to a town 21 days prior to the election, and registered to vote, you could show up on election day and vouch for 15 new people on election day, and they would have to be given a ballot. In a close contest, such as this one was, just a few such instances could throw the election.

But what proof is there that people were registereed who should not have been?

For starters, lets take a look at this web page containing summary information for St. Louis County, listing all precincts in the various municipalities. You may want to leave it open in a separate tab as you read through this. And as you do, please try and think about whether these new registrations could have actually taken place, at least as they were reported there.

In particular, you should note three columns: Voters Registered at 7 AM; secondly, Registered on Election Day; and, third, Total Voters in Precinct. All columns are important for a full understanding what happened on election day, but those three in particular paint a very puzzling picture in examining a considerable number of jurisdictions.

Voters Registered at 7 AM: Exactly what it means. It is just the sum total of those voters who were fully registered to vote as of 7 AM on election day. It includes anyone who filed to register 20 days or more before the election.

It does not represent turnout.

Registered on Election Day: These are the new voters, those who were actually registered to vote on Election Day itself, November 4, 2008, and all of whom voted because they were handed ballots as they completed the process. A few are address changes within that precinct, but most are brand new voters to the precinct. Take a look at how many there were, and, in particular, the numerical relationship between the number of new voters and the number previously registered voters. You'll begin to see the problem.

Voters in Precinct: This is the total number of people who actually voted in that precinct on election day. It is a combination of those previously registered voters who actually showed up to cast a ballot on election day, plus those who registered that day and voted, i.e., "Signatures," and when added to whatever "absentees" were counted, is supposed to be the votes actually cast in that precinct.

Such a system practically invites error. This is especially so on a Presidential election day, in which resources are obviously stretched to the limit by the sheer volume of the turnout, the work of which is performed by people who do this job for only a few intense days in any given year. While the pressure to avoid error may be significant, the deadline forces shortcuts to be taken.

Whether they are trained to do the task or not, checking the identification of those coming in to register and vote on election day itself has special difficulties associated with it. No one, of course, wants to deny anyone the "right to vote." In fact, there is a huge disincentive for anyone who is a "challenger" questioning anyone's the eligibility to vote. A challenge must be in writing under oath. Thus, it is perjury, and therefore a felony in Minnesota to challenge anyone's ability to vote if you do not have "personal knowledge" that they do not live in a precinct, or are not otherwise eligible to vote! So from a practical point of view, no one working on the process challenges anyone who tries to register.

Those who are "approving" applications, people who are put in the position of making a judgment call, such as – "Is that really the photo of the person?" or, "Is it possible that the number address was "typed in" on the electric bill?" – will almost always err on the side of simply allowing the person to vote. They could be charged criminally if they challenge the person!

In that regard, especially given the "vouching" system, is literally an open invitation to those motivated by a desire to commit voter fraud, or even a willingness to allow questionable practices to slip by especially when subject to any form of peer pressure . One would think this would be easier in a crowded city environment, where it is not unusual to have never seen someone you come across on the street, though they may live no more than several hundred feet from your apartment.

Election Day, Duluth, MN, 2008

Consider the events of Election Day in Duluth, Minnesota . . . a port City* on the shores of Lake Superior, one having a rather droll nickname - "the air-conditioned City." Duluth is currently the fourth largest city in the State of Minnesota. It had a population, as of the 2000 Census, of 86,918 men, women and children. Unlike the State as a whole,* however, the population of Duluth has been dropping a bit, so that the latest Census estimate -- for 2007, was that 84,397 people now reside in Duluth, a drop in population of 2,521 people over 7 years, or down 2.9%.

Also keep in mind that somewhere between 22 and 23 percent of the residents in the City of Duluth are under the age of 18 -- that is, they cannot legally vote. That leaves a total potential voter pool of 65,830, using the lower percent figure of 22%.

So now, consider the possibility that each and every one of the 36 voting precincts in that city, added hundreds of new voters to the registration rolls, right on election day itself this year.

Well, it was not just a possibility. That is exactly what happened. According to the figures recorded at the website of the Secretary of State, Mark Richie, the average number of new voters for each and every one of those precincts was about three hundred new voters! Some added far more, some far less.

Leading the pack in that regard were the 10th, 11th, 13th and 14th precincts. Each one of those four added well over 600 new voters, with the 14th precinct setting the pace for Duluth -- that one precinct alone added 687 new voters on election day! The City as a whole added 10,833 new voters on election day itself. And, they were all handed ballots and they voted.

What a remarkable achievement! Almost too remarkable, it would seem.

You see, according to the current figures on the website for the Secretary of State's Office, the City of Duluth already had 61,074 fully registered voters, come 7 AM, at the very beginning of Election Day this year. Those numbers are also recorded on the website of the Secretary of State's office -- you just need to total them up (the site will not do it for you).

That is 92.78% of the entire potential voter pool for the City, who were already registered at 7 am on election day. And yet, they now report that just under 11,000 (10,833) new voters became registered and voted in Duluth, Minnesota on election day alone! Just add the figures for the "Registered On Election Day" column for 36 precincts of the City of Duluth (do not include Duluth Township -- it is a separate municipality.)

Bear in mind that this unlikely number of brand new voters is about 12.8% of the city's total population, as of last year! But more importantly, it represents 16.46% of the entire possible voting pool for the City of Duluth. That, in a City that already had a 92.78% voter registration figure!

How is that possible? It would seem that it is not.

And, there are other serious problems associated with the new numbers. How would it have been possible, particularly given the persistence and the high intensity of the voter registration efforts of both the Obama and Franken campaigns, and groups like ACORN throughout the entire campaign, for example?

Wouldn't any reasonable person think that most new voters would have already been scooped up by 20 days before, and included in the group already registered as of 7 AM on election day -- that is, included in the group of 61,074 already registered on election day morning?

Surely, the ACORNs and the other Obama registerees would have combed through all the local schools and colleges, probably many times over in the months and weeks leading up to the election! The University of Minnesota - Duluth, Lake Superior College, the College of St. Scholastica, and perhaps even Duluth Business University -- must have all had voter registration teams set up since early September, perhaps even over the summer. Plus, many of those students were likely already registered to vote in their own home towns, some in their home states.

In other words, is it not more likely that the ranks of the potential new voters were pretty much tapped out come election day? And as a consequence, is it not a complete mystery that this considerable hoarde of new voters just suddenly appeared on election day? It is simply not possible that most of them were just coming in to change their address! Apparently there was some mysterious "reserve."

Handling the Registration Process - How Did They Do It?

And here's another thing. As we all know, things are pretty busy on election day, at least in Presidential election years. Minnesota does have "same day registration" but how were all those applications verified and approved in the midst of all the confusion? Take, for example, the 14th Precinct of Duluth where 687 new voters were registered that day. Over the course of 13 straight hours (7 AM until 8 PM) that would be nonstop, completing approximately 53 approved processings per hour, or just under one per minute -- ensuring that applications are completed, checking any submitted identification proof, signing written oaths by "vouchers," checking any vouchers names on the pre-registered roll.

Now, it is true that many of the people may have obtained the forms in advance and filled them out. But there is always a significant percentage of people who do not understand the instructions, or who miss some key piece of information, and there are always even some who fail to follow the instructions even minimally.

Were voters able to "vouch" for someone simply by signature? Or did they require their "voucher" to be present? The business Administrator for Proctor, for example, stated that the "vouchers" are required to be present with the new voter when they sign the oath.

That is a huge amount of work to approve nearly 11,000 applications! Who did all that work? The regular poll workers, who perform that task one or two days out of every year?

Tomorrow: More Strange Results in Other Towns

* Acccording to the United States Census Bureau, the State of Minnesota had a population of 4,919,479 as of the 2000 Census. The latest estimate is for 2007, and holds that as of them, Minnesota had a population of 5,197,621, up by 278,142, or a 5.56% increase.

**The City of Duluth, MN is a separate incorporated municipality from Duluth Township, the latter of which is also located right along Lake Superior in St. Louis County. The Township lies between Duluth and the small City of Two Harbors, the county seat of neighboring Lake County. Two Harbors (2007 pop. 3,416) is where a
significant portion of the numerical changes in the vote totals came from in the week following the 2008 election -- + 246 votes for Franken! Those numerical changes -- the ones from Two Harbors, and a few from other jurisdictions -- altered the initial "complete" vote tallies recorded with the Secretary of State, ultimately narrowing the difference between the two Senate candidates from an initial 726 vote advantage for Coleman (early Wednesday morning, 11/05) down to a much narrower 206 (as of Monday afternoon, 11/10).

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