Secretary of State: A ‘vibe’ not good enough to challenge 2020 election results

By: and - January 18, 2022 7:20 am
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon took to Twitter after Tuesday’s presidential debate to explain Minnesota’s rules on poll watchers. Simon is shown here speaking with city clerk Melissa Kennedy during a public accuracy test of Election Day voting machines in 2018. Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images.

Donald Trump won in Crow Wing County by nearly 30 points in 2020. So did Republican congressional candidate Jason Lewis in his failed bid against U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, and U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber in his race as well. Republicans also prevailed in races for state House and Senate.

But despite Republicans’ strong showing — and the fact that county officials conducted preelection equipment tests and a post-election review — a group of pro-Trump residents have demanded a full forensic audit of the county’s election results.

As the Star Tribune outlined in a recent story, residents cite their own intuition and conspiracy theories rather than facts to make their case.

“My heart is telling me that there is something drastically wrong with this election,” Rick Felt, an Army veteran living in the county, told the county board.

The activists succeeded this month, more than a year after the election, in getting the Crow Wing County Board to ask the state for a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election, although the Board stated it stands by the elections process.

Secretary of State Steve Simon says he has no idea what a “full forensic audit” means and that there is no reason to second-guess the outcome of the 2020 election results in Crow Wing County.

Simon spoke more broadly about election security misinformation in a recent interview with Heidi Holtan and John Bauer of northern Minnesota public radio station KAXE.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full audio of the interview below:

Heidi Holtan/KAXE: Some people have claimed “fraud on a massive scale” in Crow Wing County in 2020. Is there evidence of this? What’s happening?

No, there’s zero evidence of that. We have really good laws in Minnesota that give every opportunity before, during and after an election for oversight, for review, for checks and balances.

And even now, if someone has evidence of suspected misconduct or wrongdoing, they can go to law enforcement. That clock never runs out, but the election was held 14, going on 15 months ago. And there is no legitimate reason to second guess the integrity of the 2020 election in Crow Wing County.

They ran a really topnotch election there. They have one of the best election administrators around.Their work was reviewed. They did a post-election audit and review. We reviewed that. It was done very professionally and ethically and non-politically.

So it’s a credit to the county. And they did a really good and professional job.

John Bauer/KAXE: If critics want this recount, who pays for it?

That’s a good question. And it would cost a lot of money. There’s this group of citizens who says, well, we’ll pay for it. I’m not sure they understand how expensive this could be. I can’t say we’ve costed it out and done an analysis of it, but it would be a lot of money. One other thing I want to point out is that it’s beyond just a recount that they want. A recount would be relatively easy. They’re asking for a full forensic audit of all election material and data. In our office, we do this for a living. I have no idea what that means.

I'm not questioning that the folks asking for this don't believe it. But if it's this sort of gut feeling, a hunch, a vibe that something was not right ... that's just not good enough.

There’s no particularized direction here. It’s just, look at everything having to do with the election, whether it’s a ballot, a piece of equipment, whatever. And, and it, it, it appears to be based on a feeling. I don’t doubt that it’s sincerely held. I’m not questioning that the folks asking for this don’t believe it. I think they do, but, but if it’s this sort of gut feeling, a hunch, a vibe that something was not right. And that’s just not good enough. If they have particular examples, they absolutely should go to law enforcement with those, but we can’t undertake this kind of sweeping directionless hunt for something.

Holtan: NPR’s Steve Inskeep talked to former president Donald Trump recently, and Trump named off states where he claimed there was election fraud in 2020…

The 2020 election in this country and in Minnesota was fundamentally fair, accurate, honest, and secure. And that’s not just what I say. That’s what Mr. Trump’s own attorney general William Barr said explicitly. That’s what the FBI director that he appointed, who still runs that agency, has said explicitly and under oath. That’s what over 60 federal and state judges, including judges appointed by the former president, have said when presented with all sorts of allegations of misconduct or wrongdoing or misdirection unanimously, so he’s wrong, he’s just plain wrong.

I understand it’s tough to lose an election, and it’s very easy to grasp around for excuses or other explanations or even conspiracies. That’s what we’re seeing happening here and it’s wrong. It’s not just factually wrong. It is corroding our democracy in many ways. It is unfairly causing people to question the well- earned confidence that we have in our election system.

Bauer: My wife is an election judge. She said, there’s Republicans and there’s Democrats. And we work so hard at it and make sure we double check it and double check it all through the night.

I’m glad you brought that up. Because as I said in Minnesota, and in most states, this is a really decentralized system. When you’re attacking the fundamentals of the system, you’re attacking your friends and neighbors. This is done at 3,000 polling places across Minnesota, by super honest, ethical people like your wife with party balance under the watchful eye of election directors, and county commissioners. Our office never touches ballots. We don’t count them, we don’t handle them.

One silver lining is that when people come to discover what the election system is, rather than what they’ve been told it is by a particular political leader or on Facebook or whatever, they come away with a lot more confidence. Transparency is our friend.

Holtan: You were at the Minnesota state capitol on January 6th to mark the anniversary of the capitol insurrection in Washington. I wonder if you see a correlation between January 6th and this kind of disinformation when it comes to elections.

I think there are a few bad downstream effects of this campaign, of this information. One of the most obvious ones is something like January 6th, where people were misled into believing that something was rigged or fixed or stolen and marched on the U.S. Capitol in a really shameful day in American history.

The other is what’s been happening in state after state. On the strength of this disinformation, a lot of bad changes have been made to state laws that make voting harder for eligible voters, taking us backwards and putting up more roadblocks to voting. Not just the ones you hear about like Texas, Georgia, and Florida, but Iowa, Montana, Missouri and other states.

Holtan: You have something called the “Freedom to Vote Agenda.” What is this agenda?

The bottom line is we want to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat. And that’s something we’ve done well in Minnesota, but we could do even better.

So I’ll give you a couple of examples. One would be something that’s commonly referred to as automatic voter registration. Although that title’s a little misleading, because it’s not as sweeping as it sounds. Minnesota has what’s called a motor voter law. You might have noticed the last time you went in to get your driver’s license renewed, there is a piece of paper and it has a box on it. And it says, check here, if you want to be registered to vote, because the same information you provide for your driver’s license is also the same information for registering to vote.

All that this law would do is reverse that presumption. In other words, same HR test, same public office, same document, same box. But this time, instead of saying check, if you want to be, it says check, if you don’t want to be. We’ll assume you do, unless you tell us no. And that gets a lot more people on the voting roll and it cleans the rolls better.

Another example is pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds. Obviously you can’t vote until you’re 18, but it gets them in the system earlier. So that, boom, when they turn 18, they would then be registered. There are states like Florida, Hawaii, red states, blue states that have enacted this. And it’s really had an effect on turnout among our youngest voters. So those are some examples of things that we can do that can get bipartisan support. These aren’t just partisan talking points, their actual ideas where Republicans and Democrats can come together to make our already good system even better.

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Heidi Holtan
Heidi Holtan

Heidi Holtan is News and Public Affairs Director for Northern Community Radio. She is on-air host and executive producer for the Morning Show and is also responsible for our local presence on All Things Considered and As It Happens. She produces thoughtful segments like Dig Deep and Strong Women.

John Bauer
John Bauer

John has worked as KAXE's Development Director since 1995. You can hear him on the Morning Show on Thursdays and Fridays. He is also the women’s basketball coach at Itasca Community College. John loves animals, golf, and complaining about the Minnesota Twins.