In Minneapolis, it’s just business as usual

Democrats Phyllis Kahn and Mohamud Noor are contending for the right to represent District 60B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Kahn is the echt liberal who was first elected to represent the district in 1972; Noor is the challenger who reflects the district’s shifting demographics. The district includes the Cedar-Riverside area of Minneapolis along with the University of Minnesota’s west bank campus, and a lot of Somalis now reside in Cedar-Riverside. Kahn comes out of the university community, Noor out of the new arrivals.

The race has given rise to claims of vote fraud by Kahn regarding certain Somali voter registrations. John wrote about the race in “Cracks appearing in Democratic coalition.”

The County Attorney’s office investigated whether a private mailbox center in the neighborhood has been improperly used as an address for more than 140 voters. The Kahn campaign alleged that usage of the fake address has been orchestrated by the Noor campaign.

The Star Tribune reports that the investigation has concluded that no fraud was involved. The voters whose addresses gave the mail center will have their registrations canceled, but they can re-register in time to vote for Noor. The reference to “absentee ballots” in the story is to ballots already case in the upcoming primary:

All 141 voters registered at a mailbox center at 419 Cedar Av. in Minneapolis will have their registrations canceled after an investigation by the Hennepin County attorney’s office determined that the address was not a valid residence.

But county officials say individuals registered at the address can still vote in the highly competitive Phyllis Kahn vs. Mohamud Noor state House race if they re-register in the precinct in which they live.

None of the 141 individuals submitted an absentee ballot for the Kahn-Noor race, county officials said. Two new registrants tried to submit absentee ballots using the Cedar address for this election cycle and those ballots were rejected, but the individuals are still eligible to vote, investigators said.

The investigation came after Brian Rice, an attorney for Kahn’s campaign, filed a petition asking the county to investigate the 141 registrations at the Cedar Mailbox Center and alleged “massive voter fraud.”

Assistant County Attorney Dan Rogan said the investigation found no evidence of any organized or coordinated attempt to have individuals register using the mailbox address. Only 16 of the 141 registrations happened in 2014. Individuals have been registering using it since 2008.

So the improper registrations didn’t occur this year; they just reflect business as usual:

“This has been happening for a while. It was really a result of people using this address and not knowing that they were supposed to put [down] their residential address,” Rogan said.

Omar Jamal, a Somali-American community activist, said Rice and Kahn owe the Somali-American community and Noor an apology, adding that the petition has instilled fear in the community. He said he and others now have to organize community outreach efforts to assure citizens that they can go out and vote.

Rice said that if the question of potential fraud had not been raised now, it would have led to a lengthier process down the line.

There seem to be a few loose ends arising from the investigation:

A hearing was scheduled for Thursday to determine the eligibility of the 141 registered voters. The county auditor sent notices to those voters to appear, and 19 showed up.

Officials repeatedly told those in attendance that the hearing was not a criminal procedure. After Rogan presented the county’s findings, only those who wanted to argue that they actually did reside at 419 Cedar were asked to raise their hand to testify.

No one did.

Of the 141 voters, 49 of them were incorrectly registered at the mailbox center because they submitted a change of address, the county found.

When a change of address occurs, the county receives that information from the secretary of state and the post office. The county then sends a notice to verify that the address is a residence. If the information is not corrected within 21 days, the county assumes the information was valid.

The county can sometimes catch mailbox addresses because they have a P.O. box designation. But the 419 Cedar address did not, and sometimes had an apartment number as well.

Roqia Hassan, the owner of the Cedar Mailbox Center, said she told her customers that they could not use that address for their voter registration.

The county found 60 percent of those who registered did so through normal registration methods, such as a registration drive, on Election Day or a mail registration.

As I say, there seem to be a few loose ends that should be of concern to legal Minnesota voters, and to the Star Tribune, for that matter. What about the 16 who registered using the address this year? How did that happen? And 92 of the 141 voters who registered using the mail center address did so upon their initial registration. Why? Insofar as the charge of orchestrated fraud made by Kahn against the Noor campaign is concerned, however, the case is closed.

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