You know those efforts by conservatives to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) election in that drawn-out recount, by searching high and low for alleged voter fraud? The head of Minnesota’s County Attorneys Association, John Kingrey, says that they’re taking up local prosecutors’ time with false reports.
As we’ve previously noted, the conservative group Minnesota Majority submitted a (dubious) report alleging that hundreds of felons had illegally voted in the 2008 Senate race. After the counties investigated the report — as they are required under state law to do, when it comes to allegations of election fraud — it was found that the report contained errors such as identifying the wrong people, or naming felons who could legally vote after serving their full sentences.
At a press conference Monday with Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota, a group formed after the 2004 election to mobilize against reported problems with electronic voting machines and other potential problems of voter disenfranchisement, Kingrey called the reports of voter fraud “wildly overstated,” and said he knew of only one prosecution of voter fraud.
In addition, report co-author Kathy Bonnifield said that there were only 26 convictions of felons who voted, and 12 convictions of felons who registered to vote but did not actually cast ballots.
Kingrey explained the issue to TPMDC, about how prosecutors are required to investigate the allegations and have done so. “I know our folks took it seriously, we asked them to take it seriously,” said Kingrey. “And I can’t put a dollar amount on it, but it did divert resources and time away from other stuff that county attorneys and law enforcement do.”
As the Star Tribune reported, Minnesota Majority head Jeff Davis on Monday “dismissed Kingrey’s comments as resistance to following election law.”
What does Kingrey say to that, I asked? “That’s his opinion. I would just ask him, do you want me to put DUI people behind bars, or do you want me to chase frivolous allegations? That’s what I would tell him,” Kingrey responded. “Our number one priority is public safety. And again, the law allows us no discretion, we must investigate and we must prosecute. It leaves no discretion to the prosecutor. And if you fail to do that, you forfeit your office.”
When asked for comment, Minnesota Majority spokesman Dan McGrath emailed us back:
Clearly the state legislature believed that pursuing voter fraud allegations is a high priority since the election statutes mandate investigation of voter fraud allegations by the county attorneys. We also believe stopping voter fraud is a high priority - it’s a threat to democracy and self-government. We think that ranks pretty high on the priority list.
As to “frivolous” allegations, we have conclusively demonstrated that hundreds of ineligible voters voted in 2008. Some of our data included incorrect identity matches or the suspected fraudulent voter was off probation in some cases, but the majority of the names we’ve provided county attorneys are accurately flagged as ineligible voters. The problem is that county attorneys aren’t charging the ineligible voters if they don’t feel they can prove the ineligible voter KNEW he or she was ineligible. Simply sticking to the story, “I didn’t know” is a defense against prosecution, because our election law defines the crime as “ineligible voter KNOWINGLY votes.” This results in what I term, “limbo votes” - illegal ballots that were counted, that shouldn’t have been but with no attendant crime having been committed, technically.
My own verdict: In an election as close as the 2008 Minnesota Senate race — the final certified margin was 312 votes out of about 2.9 million total ballots — there naturally does remain room for some reasonable doubt to be entertained, due to imperfections that will always pop up in any large-scale election process. But that would go either way, whether it was a Franken win or for Norm Coleman, and the legal standards to throw out an election result in this country are much higher than that. What we see here, though, is conservatives trying to pick one issue that they think would swing their way, and pressing it as hard as they can to call it a smoking gun.
Also, a fun fact: George W. Bush’s certified margin in Florida in 2000, of 537 votes out of nearly six million, was narrower than Franken’s final margin. Reasonable doubts exist there, but Republicans tend not to talk about that.
Late Update: To be clear, I mean to say that Bush’s margin in Florida in 2000 was narrower as a percentage of the total votes cast in the respective elections.