Right-wing group alleges Minneapolis primary tainted by illegal voting scheme

Early Voting signs on a building in downtown Minnesota
A woman walks past the Downtown Early Vote Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images.

A Project Veritas video circulating online purports to show voting irregularities during the Minnesota DFL primary, particularly in Minneapolis.

The brother of newly elected Minneapolis City Council Member Jamal Osman posted videos to his SnapChat showing himself holding dozens of election envelopes.

“Just today we got 300 for Jamal Osman . . . I have 300 ballots in my car right now,” Liban Mohamed says in Somali. (The translation to English has been confirmed by the Reformer.)

Republicans have seized on the video, saying it shows illegal behavior because state law says Minnesotans may collect a maximum of three completed absentee ballots from voters to turn in for them.

The claim of “ballot harvesting” comes amid a ceaseless drumbeat from President Donald Trump of election fraud, and countercharges that he is undercutting the legitimacy of an election he may be losing.

According to Project Veritas, the videos were taken on July 1 and 2. One of Mohamed’s videos says July 2 on it. The other doesn’t indicate a date.

The date is important because during a brief window this year — including part of the primary election season — it was legal to collect and return ballots for as many people as you wanted.

Earlier this year, Democrats challenged the state law that made it a felony to assist more than three registered voters with absentee voting. The law said you could only collect ballots from up to three people and bring them to the county elections office, as long as you showed identification and signed a log saying whose ballots you returned.

Democrats argued the limit discriminated against people with disabilities, seniors and people who don’t speak English. Minnesota District Judge Thomas Gilligan agreed and ruled in Democrats’ favor on July 28.

From then, the sky was the limit. Until, that is, Sept. 4, when the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the ruling, and the limit returned to three.

It has always been illegal to fill out ballots for someone else without their knowledge, to pay someone for their vote or to get paid to collect ballots and turn them in. Project Veritas claims people were hired to get ballots to vote for Somali candidates Rep. Ilhan Omar and City Council member Jamal Osman, but these allegations have not been verified by the Reformer.

Osman, who won the special election for Minneapolis Ward 6 with 36% of the votes in the field of 11, released a statement on Facebook denying the allegations.

“Throughout my campaign, I let my staff, volunteers and supporters know my values including the type of race I wanted to run. I stated publicly the importance to run a positive and ethical campaign. I condemn behavior that contradicts these values. That is why I also condemn the continued attacks on the integrity of the East-African immigrant community in Minneapolis. The community is proud to be here, passionate about exercising their constitutional right to vote and excited to elect the next President of the United States,” Osman wrote.

Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe is known for targeting progressives, Democrats and the media with undercover video sting operations targeting groups ranging from Planned Parenthood to the Washington Post.

Their record is spotty, at best, including a lengthy history of embarrassing miscues, most recently getting caught trying to infiltrate Washington Post reporting of former Judge Roy Moore, the U.S. Senate candidate accused of pursuing teenage girls.

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s campaign released a statement calling the video entirely false.

“The amount of truth to this story is equal to the amount Donald Trump paid in taxes in ten out of the last fifteen years: zero,” said Jeremy Slevin, senior campaign advisor. “And amplifying a coordinated right-wing campaign to delegitimize a free and fair election this fall undermines our democracy.”

Project Veritas was made aware of Osman’s SnapChat videos by Omar Jamal, who identifies himself as an employee of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s office and chairman of the Somali Watchdog Group.

The Ramsey County Sheriff’s office released a statement confirming that Jamal is a civilian employee but that the office only became aware of his comments to Project Veritas on Monday. “Mr. Jamal was not acting as an employee of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office. Any direct implication would be a violation of departmental policies,” Chief Deputy David Metusalem wrote in a statement.

The Somali Watchdog Group’s website was set up in late August, according to dailydot.com. Jamal set up a GoFundMe account for himself on Monday as the Project Veritas story was tweeted out by President Trump and other prominent Republicans. The campaign has already received more than $12,000 in donations with the goal of reaching $500,000.

Project Veritas claims they called a Hennepin County attorney and described the SnapChat videos. Project Veritas says the attorney said they would be investigating, but a spokesman for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office said Monday they had not received any complaints related to the allegations in the Project Veritas video. The office released the following statement: “If Project Veritas has evidence of election law violations, they should provide it to the Minneapolis Police Department.”

The county attorney added: “An individual who identified herself only as Megan recently contacted the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office with concerns about ‘ballot harvesting,’ and an assistant Hennepin County Attorney recommended that she report her concerns to local law enforcement for investigation and review.  The County Attorney’s Office has no information about whether this individual, or Project Veritas, contacted local law enforcement about their allegations.”

The DFL-controlled House voted last year to scuttle the laws limiting assistance to voters, but the Republican-controlled Senate didn’t take action on it.

Reformer deputy editor Max Nesterak contributed to this report.