MINNEAPOLIS — The outcome of the 2020 election looms large in the current race for Minnesota Secretary of State.
Two-term incumbent Democrat Steve Simon says he's proud of how the state's election workers and voters pulled together in the midst of a pandemic to lead the nation in turnout for the third time in a row.
Republican challenger Kim Crocket has referred to the 2020 election as a "train wreck" and "lawless." Crockett, an attorney who previously worked for the conservative think tank Center for the American Experiment, hasn't been willing to say then-President Donald Trump lost Minnesota, where he finished 232,000 votes behind Joe Biden.
"You do not trust the results of Minnesota's 2020 Election?" a reporter asked at an Oct. 20 state capitol press conference.
"I don't think we'll ever know precisely what happened," Crockett responded. "What I can tell you is that Minnesota laws were not followed."
Crockett's claim is a reference to a consent decree -- a court-approved lawsuit settlement -- during the COVID-19 pandemic. That decree waived the witness signature requirement for absentee ballots and created a seven-day grace period for ballots postmarked on or before Election Day to arrive in the mail.
"I think Mr. Simon liked that compromise. I think he wanted it and that's why he agreed to it," Crockett explained.
Simon said it was all about saving lives at a time when there still wasn't a vaccine available and many voters were sheltering in place to limit their exposure to the virus.
"The court ordered some extraordinary measures to keep people safe and make sure at the end of the day that no Minnesotan had to choose between their health and the right to vote," Simon told KARE 11.
"The judge in the case said it would actually be unconstitutional for us not to agree to this settlement."
As the election grew nearer, Republicans filed a lawsuit challenging the mail-in grace period. The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals made a preliminary ruling that it would be illegal to accept ballots that arrived after Election Day.
Because more appeals were yet possible and there was a tight timeline, the federal appeals panel ruled that ballots that arrived after Election Day could be counted but they needed to be separated from other ballots. That way they could be removed from vote totals if results in a close race were successfully challenged.
Simon and other elections officials across the state urged voters to mail their ballots in early. The number of ballots that arrived after the election was less than one-tenth of one percent of the 3.2 million ballots cast.
"We didn’t just pass the stress test. I’d say we aced the stress test," Simon remarked. "This isn’t just about turnout. It’s about smooth, orderly polling places, it’s about elections that are ultimately very honest and very secure."
Simon, who is also an attorney by trade, specialized in election policy during his 10 years in the Minnesota House of Representatives, representing parts of St. Louis Park and Hopkins.
He said Minnesota's absentee ballot system is envied by elections officials in other states.
"When you order an absentee ballot you don’t just fill out a form and ask for it. You must, under Minnesota law, provide some kind of personal identifying information, such as the last digits of your Social Security number or your driver's license number," Simon explained.
"The completed ballot will only be accepted if the same unique personal identifying information is provided."
Once an absentee ballot envelope is accepted the voter poll books are updated to show that person has already voted.
"Since 2020 we've had only 17 cases of documented voter misconduct. That's still 17 too many but it's a microscopic level amid 3.2 million votes cast."
Crockett says she'd trust Minnesota's voting system more if the legislature adopted a voter ID system, ended the practice of neighbors vouching for voters who don't have a current government-issued ID and curtailed same-day registration.
"Minnesota can be kind of smug. 'Oh, we've got the highest turnout in the nation' -- as if that ends the conversation instead of starting it!" Crockett told reporters.
Crockett says the 2020 election was "rigged" because Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and others spent a lot of money aimed at increasing voter turnout in Democrat-leaning areas, rather than all areas. Those efforts weren't controlled by Simon or other elected officials.
She also contends that Hillary Clinton, who conceded her loss to Donald Trump, has consistently said the 2016 Election was stolen.
Steve Simon, a descendant of Russian Jews, came to tears during his acceptance speech at the DFL Convention talking about how Russia started the persecution of Jewish people by taking away their right to vote.
It came a week after Crockett played a video at the GOP Convention depicting Simon and Washington elections lawyer Marc Elias in dresses as puppets being controlled by Democrat billionaire George Soros, who is also Jewish.
The video was condemned by many for repeating a centuries-old anti-Semitic trope of Jews as puppet masters controlling the world. The Minnesota Republican Party apologized, but Simon said he never heard from Crockett herself.
"The images themselves were really, really disturbing and repeated all sorts of anti-Semitic themes and it's disappointing that she's never apologized to anyone for that."
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