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Context of 'July 4, 2012: Voting Rights Group Claims Minnesota Voting Activism Group Illegally Acting as Lobbyist in Fight to Implement Voter ID Laws'

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Norm Coleman (l) and Al Franken (r) are locked in a recount battle for a US Senate seat representing Minnesota.Norm Coleman (l) and Al Franken (r) are locked in a recount battle for a US Senate seat representing Minnesota. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]The US Senate race in Minnesota, between incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) and challenger Al Franken (D-MN), concludes with Coleman enjoying a razor-thin margin of victory and declaring himself the victor. However, Franken (running as the candidate for the “Democratic-Farmer-Labor” party, or DFL, Minnesota’s version of the state Democratic Party) says he will ask for a recount, as is his right under Minnesota law. Minnesota officials say the recount could delay the final result of the race until December. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune characterizes the race between Coleman and Franken as “one of the most bitter… in Minnesota history.” The initial results show Coleman in the lead by 215 votes, though he was adjudged to lead by as much as 725 votes in early estimates. The Associated Press previously called Coleman the winner, but has now withdrawn that call, labeling the race as too close to judge. Franken says his campaign is investigating alleged voting irregularities at a number of polling places, and adds: “[A] recount could change the outcome significantly.… Let me be clear: Our goal is to ensure that every vote is properly counted.” Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) says a recount would not begin until the middle of the month and would likely stretch into December. “No matter how fast people would like it, the emphasis is on accuracy,” he says. The vote is split three ways, with Coleman and Franken each having 42 percent of the vote and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley having 15 percent. Exit polls show Franken rode a wave of Democrats voting for Barack Obama (D-IL) as president, including a large number of first-time voters. Minnesota delivered its electoral votes for Obama. However, Barkley drained a significant amount of votes away from Franken. Franken had trouble convincing some voters of his credibility, in light of his career as an overtly liberal comedian and author, while Coleman was hurt by being connected with the poorly performing US economy under President Bush. Franken caught up with Coleman in polling after the stock market almost collapsed in September. Franken says that like the just-elected Obama, “I believe we’re going to celebrate a victory in this race, too.” Coleman tells supporters that he “feels good” about the ultimate results. Both Franken and Coleman engaged in harshly negative campaign advertising, which drove a large number of voters to choose Barkley in the race. National Republicans called Franken “unfit for office” because of his liberalism, while Franken attacked Coleman by pairing him with Bush, telling voters that Coleman helped Bush “drive the economy right into the ditch.” The two campaigns together spent almost $50 million, making it by far the most expensive Senate race in the country. Franken was dogged by allegations that he did not pay the proper income taxes, and embarrassed by examples of “lewd” humor from his past comedy engagements, leading him to apologize for some of his humor to his supporters. Coleman dealt with questions about his payment of artificially low rent on an exclusive Capitol Hill rowhouse, and questionable contributions from wealthy benefactors. Coleman asks Franken to waive the recount in the interest of saving Minnesota taxpayers the cost of the procedure, and so that “healing” from the hotly contested race can begin. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/5/2008; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/6/2008; Associated Press, 1/6/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Ritchie, Al Franken, Associated Press, George W. Bush, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Norm Coleman, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) acknowledges his victory in front of his Minneapolis home. His wife Franni Franken looks on.Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) acknowledges his victory in front of his Minneapolis home. His wife Franni Franken looks on. [Source: Jeffrey Thompson / Getty Images / Zimbio]The Minnesota Supreme Court rejects Senate candidate Norm Coleman’s motion to reconsider the vote recount that found his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), the winner of the November 2008 Senate race (see January 5, 2009). Coleman, a Republican and the incumbent, concedes the election in a brief appearance after the ruling. Hours later, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) signs the election certificate for Franken, clearing the way for Franken to take his seat in the US Senate. “I can’t wait to get started,” Franken says. “I won by 312 votes, so I really have to earn the trust of the people who didn’t vote for me.” Coleman says he chose not to appeal to federal courts given the likelihood that the results would not have gone his way, and says he respects the high court’s decision. The court rejects Coleman’s contention that hundreds of absentee ballots ruled invalid should be counted, ruling that voters have the expectation of filling out the ballots properly and should understand that improperly completed ballots will be rejected. Franken’s seating gives Democrats a 60-vote majority in the Senate, theoretically giving them a “filibuster-proof majority” that would overcome Republican efforts to block legislation by refusing to allow cloture votes. However, Democrats rarely vote in unified “blocs” as Republicans often do, and two Senate Democrats, Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Robert Byrd (D-WV), are hospitalized and unable to cast votes. Franken will be seated after Congress’s July 4 recess. [Associated Press, 6/30/2009; Commercial Appeal (Memphis), 7/1/2009] Politico describes the ruling as “remarkably decisive, picking apart and rejecting one Coleman legal claim after another.” Law professor Larry Jacobs says, “Norm Coleman has gotten shellacked in the court room—by judges who were appointed by Pawlenty.” The Minnesota Republican Party protests the ruling, claiming that it “wrongly disenfranchised thousands of Minnesotans who deserve to have their votes counted,” but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he accepts the decision, stating: “While I am very disappointed in the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision today, I respect Norm’s decision not to pursue his case any further. After having more votes on Election Day, he made a great personal sacrifice to pursue an accurate account of the vote for Minnesotans. For that, and his dedicated service on behalf of Minnesota, he should be commended.” [Politico, 6/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Politico, Larry Jacobs, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Al Franken, Minnesota Republican Party, Minnesota Supreme Court, Robert C. Byrd, Mitch McConnell, Norm Coleman, Tim Pawlenty

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

The Minnesota Majority Legal Defense Fund logo. It is not known if the misspelling of “defend” is deliberate.The Minnesota Majority Legal Defense Fund logo. It is not known if the misspelling of “defend” is deliberate. [Source: Minnesota Majority / WePay (.com)]The conservative activist group Minnesota Majority issues a report claiming that Senator Al Franken (D-MN) won the hotly contested recount for the Minnesota seat (see June 30, 2009) because of votes cast by felons voting illegally in Minneapolis-St. Paul. According to the report, at least 341 convicted felons who had lost the right to vote cast their votes for Franken in the 2008 race (see November 4-5, 2008). Franken was found to have won the race by 312 votes. If the votes allegedly cast illegally were deducted from the final vote tally, Franken’s opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) would be the winner, the report says. Minnesota Majority makes its claim after studying publicly available conviction lists and voting records. The group claims that attempts to secure an investigation by state and federal authorities have been “stonewalled.” Minnesota Majority executive director Dan McGrath says: “We aren’t trying to change the result of the last election. That legally can’t be done. We are just trying to make sure the integrity of the next election isn’t compromised.” McGrath complains that prosecutors in Ramsey and Hennepin Counties have ignored their findings, including a list of hundreds of allegedly illegal voters from those counties. A spokesman for the county attorney’s offices says the group’s information is “just plain wrong” and full of errors. McGrath says the group went back and double-checked its records after being told that its findings were wrong. He says: “What we did this time is irrefutable. We took the voting lists and matched them with conviction lists and then went back to the records and found the roster lists, where voters sign in before walking to the voting booth, and matched them by hand. The only way we can be wrong is if someone with the same first, middle, and last names, same year of birth as the felon, and living in the same community, has voted. And that isn’t very likely.”
County Prosecutors: Group's Claims Largely Erroneous - Phil Carruthers, Ramsey County’s lead prosecutor, says his office is taking the allegations seriously and praises the group for doing “a good job in [its] review.” But, Carruthers notes, the group lacks access to nonpublic information, and that information shows that almost all of the names on the list are of eligible voters. For example, Carruthers says, “public records might show a felon was given 10 years probation, but internal records the county attorney has might show that the probation period was cut to five and the felon was eligible to vote.” Carruthers says Ramsey County is filing charges against 28 people for illegally voting, with more charges possible. McGrath says: “Prosecutors have to act more swiftly in prosecuting cases from the 2008 election to deter fraud in the future, and the state has to make sure that existing system, that flags convicted felons so voting officials can challenge them at the ballot, is effective. In 90 percent of the cases we looked at, the felons weren’t flagged. If the state had done that, things might be very different today.” [Fox News, 7/12/2010]
Governor Weighs In, Implying Franken Won Illegally - Two days after the allegations surface in the press, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) says the organization may have found “credible evidence” of voter fraud. On Fox News, Pawlenty says of the allegedly illegal votes: “I suspect they favored Al Franken. I don’t know that. But if that turned out to be true they may have flipped that election in a very close election.” Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund has stated flatly on Fox that “hundreds of felons” gave Franken the victory. But Carruthers tells a reporter, “Overwhelmingly, their statistics were not accurate.” Deputy Hennepin County Attorney Pat Diamond adds: “It’s produced a lot of smoke. But at the end of the day, I don’t know if it’s going to produce a lot of fire.” Carruthers says that the list of 480 suspected felons was obviously wrong from the outset, and 270 were removed upon a cursory review. Many other cases were examples of mistaken identity, or the list not taking into account felons who had their right to vote restored. The 28 cases flagged by Carruthers for potential prosecution had already been identified before he received Minnesota Majority’s list, he says. Diamond says much the same of the list of alleged illegal voters in Hennepin County.
Allegations Being Made for Political Purposes? - Local reporter John Croman notes that the allegations are being used by conservatives to push for restrictive voter ID laws. He writes: “Valid ID is needed to register, but not to vote. And yet both of the prosecutors [Carruthers and Diamond] pointed out there’s nothing to keep a felon from using legal ID to vote illegally.” While Minnesota Majority is blaming Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) for the alleged felon voting, Diamond says Ritchie has worked diligently to make the state’s voting rolls more accurate and current. “He’s gotten the system into this century, so it’s actually much easier to prevent felons from voting now,” Diamond says. “I’m going to trial in August with two cases of felons who voted, that were flagged by election workers.” Law professor David Schultz says Pawlenty’s response is surprising: “One, it makes an assumption that it’s been proven that these felons have voted illegally, which isn’t the case. And, two, it makes the assumption that these felons voted overwhelmingly in favor of Franken.” Schultz says he believes Pawlenty is posturing for his upcoming presidential bid: “There’s a certain segment of the population, people who believe Democrats can’t win unless felons and immigrants vote illegally. He’s trying to appeal to that group to further his presidential campaign.” But if that is the case, Schultz says, Pawlenty is casting aspersions on the integrity of Minnesota’s election system for political gain. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 7/14/2010; KARE-11, 7/15/2010]
Months Later, Six Charges Filed - In October 2010, six felons in Hennepin County will be charged with voting illegally (see October 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: Mark Ritchie, Dan McGrath, County of Ramsey (Minnesota), County of Hennepin (Minnesota), Al Franken, David Schultz, John Fund, Tim Pawlenty, John Croman, Pat Diamond, Norm Coleman, Minnesota Majority, Phil Carruthers

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda

Minnesota political and sports columnist Jay Weiner writes of his irritation at the recent claims that Senator Al Franken (D-MN) won the 2008 Senate election because felons voted illegally (see July 12-14, 2010). Weiner became a political reporter during the recount between Franken and incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN—see June 30, 2009), and has written a book on the subject, This Is Not Florida: How Al Franken Won the Minnesota Senate Recount. Weiner notes that the claims by the conservative organization Minnesota Majority are disputed by a number of judges and even, grudgingly, the Coleman campaign’s lawyers. Coleman is now calling Franken the “accidental senator,” Weiner writes, and Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) is casting doubt on Franken’s legitimacy as senator. The story is being pushed by Fox News and by conservative talk show hosts. Weiner notes that research into Minnesota Majority’s claims has proven the claims to be groundless and the organization’s “proof” inaccurate. Weiner says he is angered by the implication that if voter ID laws were in place, those alleged felon votes would not have been cast and Coleman would have won. “This is a long-standing Republican issue to limit voting among the disenfranchised,” Weiner writes. “Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer has used this controversy to call for picture IDs for voters. But guess what? Convicted felons have driver’s licenses. They have photo IDs. Voter photo IDs wouldn’t halt felons from voting. This Minnesota Majority report is being used for other political reasons.” He accuses Pawlenty of being “fast and loose” with the facts in his eagerness to smear Franken, and cites Pawlenty’s appearance on Fox to falsely accuse a Minneapolis election official of possible fraud (see November 12, 2008), and his erroneous claim that Franken won the election through the auspices of improperly counted absentee ballots. But regardless of what else happens, Weiner concludes, the issue will resurface in 2014, when Franken’s Republican challenger will resurrect the charges to attack Franken’s legitimacy as a sitting senator. [Salon, 7/19/2010]

Entity Tags: Jay Weiner, Al Franken, Fox News, Tom Emmer, Minnesota Majority, Norm Coleman, Tim Pawlenty

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Authorities in Hennepin County, Minnesota, charge six convicted felons with voting illegally in the 2008 election. The charges accuse the six of fraud in voting or in registering to vote. The charges come after months of investigation into 110 allegations of voter fraud (see July 12-14, 2010). All six signed a voter registration card on or before November 4, 2008 stating that they had the right to vote because they had not been convicted of a felony or had been discharged from their sentence. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 10/21/2010]

Entity Tags: County of Hennepin (Minnesota)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Minnesota branch of the nonpartisan voting rights organization Common Cause files a complaint against the conservative voting activist group Minnesota Majority, claiming that the nonprofit group broke state law by not registering itself as a lobbying organization. Minnesota Majority is working to implement restrictive voter ID laws in Minnesota. In 2010, the group falsely claimed that felons voting illegally gave Al Franken (D-MN) the victory in the state’s hotly contested 2008 US Senate race (see July 12-14, 2010). Mike Dean of Common Cause Minnesota says: “Minnesota Majority has been caught red-handed in an effort to circumvent Minnesota lobbyist laws. It is time for the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board to more effectively enforce Minnesota’s rules for lobbyists.” The complaint states that Minnesota Majority executive director Dan McGrath should have registered himself as a lobbyist. In recent court filings, McGrath said he started working with legislators “to construct and promote” a photo ID bill for voters in November 2010. The legislature passed the bill in 2012, which places a state constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot that would require Minnesotans to show photo ID before voting. McGrath says the complaint is ridiculous, and says he merely offered “expert advice” to legislators on the subject of voter ID. “I’m not a lobbyist,” he says. “A lobbyist would be somebody paid by a corporation to twist arms at the Legislature.” According to state law, a lobbyist is someone who is paid more than $3,000 to lobby, or who spends more than $250 on lobbying or more than 50 hours a month on lobbying. Common Cause says McGrath and Minnesota Majority have spent “significant time and money lobbying in support of the voter ID amendment.” State law prohibits the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, the entity that is charged with investigating such complaints, from commenting on them until it has ruled. The board’s executive director, Gary Goldsmith, says that there are executive directors of nonprofits who appear at the Capitol to speak about legislation but do not meet the definition of a lobbyist. “It’s fairly easy to separate the pros from the ordinary Joes” when it comes to lobbying, he says. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 7/4/2012]

Entity Tags: Common Cause Minnesota, Al Franken, Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board (Minnesota), Minnesota Majority, Dan McGrath, Gary Goldsmith, Mike Dean

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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