Minnesota GOP grapples with caucus night turnout discrepancies

Candidates call for audits, pause in conventions

By: - February 15, 2022 11:24 am

Republican precinct caucus coordinator John Kunitz (right) tallies straw poll votes for governor with party volunteers at Chanhassan High School on Feb. 1, 2022. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

The Minnesota Republican Party is confronting discrepancies in key data from its recent precinct caucuses, creating chaos even as local conventions are supposed to begin Friday. 

Some candidates for governor and secretary of state are calling for an audit and postponement of the party conventions while the data is sorted out.

Former GOP operative Michael Brodkorb said the state party released a new batch of data to campaigns on Friday showing there were 35,196 caucus attendees, but with 99% of precincts reporting, only 17,801 people voted in the Feb. 1 straw ballot for governor, prompting campaigns to question the results. 

Normally, the numbers of caucus attendees and straw poll voters are comparable.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Brodkorb said in an interview. “It’s not a one-off.”

The disarray has to be sorted out quickly because local conventions are supposed to start soon. Attendees at those conventions will determine who will be delegates to the state GOP convention in May, when the party will gather to endorse a candidate for governor and other statewide offices. 

Shortly after Brodkorb tweeted Saturday about the issue, Lucas Baker, political director for the state Republican Party, sent an email to candidates and campaigns acknowledging the problem with their precinct caucus data, and saying they were looking into it, Brodkorb said.

State Republican party officials have not returned a phone call seeking comment.

The problems threaten to upend the Republican Party’s focus on “election integrity,” which was supercharged by erroneous claims by former President Donald Trump and his followers that the 2020 election was stolen from him. 

North Oaks dermatologist Neil Shah, a candidate for governor, is now calling for a “full forensic audit” of the GOP caucus data — which he said is “full of grave errors” — and the release of the original delegate signup sheets from the precinct caucuses.

Republican secretary of state candidate Kelly Jahner-Byrne said she also supports pausing local conventions while verifying the voter lists.

“Quite simply, election integrity begins at home,” she said in a statement. “In this case, it should begin with the Republican Party of Minnesota. I would be remiss as a candidate for secretary of state if I do not cast a critical and analytical eye on my own party list.”

She called it an “utterly absurd” debacle, saying in more than 25 years as a business executive, she’s never seen such an “epic data management failure.” 

Shah claims in a press release that the number of caucus attendees reported was off by a factor of 40 or more, with thousands of entries from previous election cycles included, and names that didn’t correspond with addresses, phone numbers, emails or delegate status. 

Shah said his delegates are finding widespread discrepancies across the state and demanded that the local conventions scheduled to begin Friday be rescheduled to March to allow time for an audit of delegate signup sheets used on caucus night. The race would normally begin once legislative and congressional redistricting maps are released Tuesday. But the GOP won’t be ready to give data to candidates to merge into the new maps so organizing can begin. Brodkorb said that puts the party behind a couple of weeks, at the worst time possible.

“These campaigns are just dead in the water now,” he said. “They can’t go anywhere … While there is time to clean this up, they’re running out of time.”

Since the party is incapable of providing the names of voters who will determine party endorsements, Brodkorb said multiple campaigns may decide to bypass the party endorsement and go straight to the primary election in August. 

Previously, almost all the Republican gubernatorial candidates had agreed to abide by the party endorsement and drop out after that.

Brodkorb said the snafu creates a hypocrisy problem for the party, given all the GOP energy around alleged voter fraud.

“The problem here, long term, is they have an election integrity issue. So all of the ranting … about election integrity and the big lie … is now right in their wheelhouse,” he said. 

Shah leveled an accusation at a staffer for gubernatorial candidate Paul Gazelka, saying she deliberately omitted a significant number of delegates and added names of people to the delegate list who didn’t attend the caucus in Morrison County, even though attendance is required to be considered a delegate.

“Evidence of widespread errors and manipulation renders the possibility of free and fair conventions to be very unlikely unless a full forensic audit takes place,” Shah said.

Brodkorb said as of Monday, about 26 pockets of the state hadn’t turned in their caucus data, including St. Louis County, where a convention is set to happen this weekend. That means the campaigns won’t have time to target voters without complete lists.

Brodkorb said as the campaigns began combing through the data over the weekend, they started seeing formatting errors — as though “somebody fat-fingered the data” — and that led to a call with all the statewide campaigns Saturday night. At that point, there was a collegial resolve to get the data cleaned up, he said.

On Monday, another call happened with the state party, Brodkorb said, and after that Shah made his allegation about Morrison County.

“That has metastasized this even more,” he said.

Thus far, only Shah’s campaign has leveled accusations of intentional errors, so Brodkorb said he believes most of the errors are unintentional. Due to the lack of data security, he said, it’s possible “tomfoolery” happened on caucus night.

“There could be actual attempts by campaigns to alter, edit, adjust delegate lists,” he said. “That’s an absolute possibility.”


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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.