Crow Wing County officials approve some of activists’ demands for election changes

The county will hand count twice as many precincts as law requires and produce ‘cast vote records’

By: - September 1, 2022 6:01 am

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell recently held a two-day summit in Missouri where activists were encouraged to request election records, including cast vote records. Activists promptly did so nationwide, including Minnesota. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Crow Wing County officials recently gave a group of persistent election deniers some of what they wanted. 

The county board voted Aug. 23 to hand-count November election results in twice as many precincts as state law requires in a post-election review — four instead of two. 

The board also voted to produce “cast vote records” — which show how election software reads cast ballots — of the 2020 election and August primary, as first reported by the Brainerd Dispatch.

The push for “cast vote records,” is part of a national campaign by right-wing activists such as MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell to change election laws and oversight. 

Some of the commissioners said they had full faith in their elections but were trying to appease activists. The activists, however, were not appeased because they want all the precincts hand-counted and they don’t want the cast vote records to be randomized, although that’s automatically done, county officials said.

State law requires counties to double-check results by having election judges hand count results in random precincts. If the difference is more than one-quarter of 1%, more precincts are hand-counted. And if there are still enough differences, the entire county is recounted. 

Since 2006, the state hasn’t had to escalate to more recounts, and Crow Wing County has never had to.

Activists have been lobbying Crow Wing County officials for nearly a year with unspecified claims of voter fraud, echoing false claims by former President Donald Trump and his allies that  election fraud is rampant — even though Trump won the county by 30 points in 2020.

Some activists at the Crow Wing County board meeting referred to Lindell, who falsely claims the 2020 election was fraudulent. Lindell recently held a two-day summit in Missouri where activists were encouraged to request election records, including cast vote records. 

Lindell said “every single person in the country” should go to their local county clerk’s office to ask for cast vote records from the 2020 election. Election officials around the country reported being asked for the records in the days after Lindell’s exhortation.

Among the Crow Wing County activists was Erik Van Mechelen, who ran in the 2022 Republican primary for secretary of state but lost to another election conspiracy theorist, Kim Crockett. 

Commissioner Steve Barrows, the only commissioner to vote “no” on the resolution, said the activists continually change their complaints as the county addresses or disproves their concerns. He said the county elections are “second to none” and the people who run them have never been questioned like they have this year.

“There are no facts backing up the fact that the Crow Wing County election in 2020 was rife with fraud,” he said. “None. Zero.”

In January, under pressure from activists, the county board asked the secretary of state’s office to do a “full forensic audit” of the 2020 election. The secretary of state rejected that as an unnecessary “vague and impossibly broad search for unspecified misconduct.” Crow Wing County administrators had already done a post-election review and found no irregularities.

The activists have also pushed the county to stop using Dominion Voting Systems and hand count ballots instead — which election administrators say would be an unwieldy, costly, less accurate nightmare.

Six Minnesota counties use Dominion Voting Systems, which was trashed by Trump and his allies to buttress claims of election fraud. Dominion has sued multiple Trump allies for billions of dollars and cleared several early legal hurdles.

Crow Wing County Administrative Services Director Debby Erickson said hand counts are more prone to error, more costly and would require multiple days to get results.

“You are touching a ballot 40 to 50 times,” she said.

Max Hailperin, a retired computer scientist who consults on election systems, said the people pressing for cast vote results nationally and in Minnesota want to see how votes in a race are distributed as ballots are scanned. In other words, did the ballots start off heavily favoring one candidate, and then suddenly change?

That stems from an erroneous belief that the votes should come in in an essentially random sequence, so any variations — a late swing for, say, Joe Biden — are taken as tampering.

“By and large, everywhere they look, they find signs of trouble,” he said via email.

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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. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.

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