Did Hundreds of Felons Vote in Hennepin County?
An update on the investigation of Minnesota Majority’s report
Two weeks ago, the story broke about Minnesota Majority’s investigation alleging that felons, possibly by the hundreds, had illegally voted in Hennepin and Ramsey counties in the 2008 election. Some of the news coverage suggested that the Hennepin County Attorney’s office was not taking the allegations seriously or was dragging its feet in its investigation of the Minnesota Majority’s report.
These allegations are serious – going to the very heart of our democratic process. The integrity of our elections in Minnesota took a big hit already when we learned how inconsistently absentee ballots were counted throughout the state. To suggest that hundreds of felons illegally voted on top of that would seriously damage citizens’ faith in Minnesota’s ability to run fair and clean elections.
Over the course of the past week, I’ve spoken with Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and his Deputy County Attorney who handles election fraud cases several times. Here’s the scoop regarding HennCo’s actions with respect to these allegations:
In February 2010, Minnesota Majority provided to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office (“HCAO”) the names of 451 felons suspected of illegally voting in Hennepin County in 2008. That list had been winnowed down from an original list of over 800 names. This list of 451, on its face, was credible and was the result of significant investigative work by Minnesota Majority.
The organization, however, recognized that it did not have the benefit of all of the information that would be available to law enforcement or a county attorney, realizing that some or even many of the names on its list might not represent felons who voted illegally. Minnesota Majority requested that the HCAO investigate the 451 names and prosecute any that proved to be accurate.
As of last week, the HCAO had determined that 235 of the 451 names would not be charged for a variety of reasons. For example, it could have been that the identity of the suspected felon was mistaken or that terms of a correctly identified felon’s probation were changed and he or she was actually eligible to vote on Election Day 2008.
The HCAO is currently investigating the remaining 216 names on the list, mainly by trying to contact and interview the person listed and/or that person’s probation officer.
I have two concerns about the status of this investigation:
1) It needs to get done – soon. It has been nearly two years since the 2008 election and allegations of voter fraud should at the very least be investigated and, if appropriate, charged before Election Day 2010.
County Attorney Freeman has assured me that this investigation will be completed and that any charges of illegal felons voting will be brought BEFORE November 2, 2010. And he does, by the way, expect that charges will result from this investigation.
I understand that the statute of limitations for this particular crime is three years, so that will not be an issue. I’ve heard a concern that state law allows for destruction of voting documents 22 months after an election. I have spoken with Hennepin County’s election administrator and she has confirmed that all voting documentation with respect to the 451 names on the Minnesota Majority list has already been provided to the HCAO. Therefore, destruction of documents should not be an issue in Hennepin County.
2) If most of the names on this list are not charged (which it appears will be the case), I want citizens to be satisfied that the investigation of these allegations was complete and legitimate. While I might trust and respect the work of the HCAO on this particular issue, some will not, which is why verification is crucial.
County Attorney Freeman has agreed to make public a list of each of the 451 names not charged by the HCAO and provide an explanation as to why no charges were brought. That will provide Minnesota Majority, or anyone else for that matter, an opportunity to review the HCAO investigation and make a determination as to its legitimacy.
I am satisfied at this point with the response of the HCAO and look forward to see what comes of this in the coming weeks.
A few fellow Republicans have been critical of me for not making a little more hay out of this issue with the DFL County Attorney. My intent, however, is not to score political points, but to actually see that these serious allegations are fully investigated, that prosecutions result when appropriate and that the process is transparent enough for the citizens of Hennepin County to be satisfied that our justice system works. I guess we’ll just wait and see.