The integrity of the 2020 election continues to make national headlines and spark debate in numerous states across America, and Minnesota is no exception.
Amid the discourse, Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, has repeated claims regarding Minnesota's 2020 election that Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon says are "unsubstantiated garbage." Those claims were recently highlighted in a Sept. 21 YouTube video in which Gruenhagen cites allegations from Midwest Swamp Watch, a limited liability company with a Brookings, South Dakota, address, with Rick Weible, Minnesota GOP operative and former St. Bonifacius mayor, listed as its agent.
“According to their research, 39% of Minnesota ballots were not connected to a registered voter as of Nov. 29, 2020, five days after the Minnesota canvassing board met and certified the election on Nov. 24," Gruenhagen says in the video. "Those 39% also included 700,000 absentee ballots that were not connected to a registered voter. ... We need a forensic audit here in the state of Minnesota to find out what the actual vote was."
In response, the Secretary of State's Office highlighted a comment left on a different Midwest Swamp Watch video earlier this year. The comment appears under the name Max Hailperin, a professor emeritus in math, computer science and statistics at Gustavus Adolphus College who has been awarded the National Association of Secretaries of State's Medallion Award for service in election-related technology and legislation.
“This analysis of absentee voting records was based on a misunderstanding. … Accepted absentee ballots are immediately recorded in the Statewide Voter Registration System as required by Minnesota Statutes section 203B.121, and those records are available contemporaneously under section 203B.12," he writes. "(The error is) to think that those records were the same as the voting history records available under section 201.091. ... Those voting history records can be posted up to six weeks after the election under section 201.171."
A spokesperson for the Secretary of State's Office said the two databases are not intended to match, and have different purposes. The voter history database is an "active snapshot in time" of who is registered to vote, and not a complete tally as Minnesota residents move, change names, die or are convicted of felonies.
"Trying to match an active snapshot in time to the accepted absentee ballot list will never result in a true 'match,'" the spokesperson said, "especially as the group in the video appears to have been looking at data during the six-week time period counties have to resolve any discrepancies."
McLeod County DFL Chair Lowell Ueland called Gruenhagen's allegations unrealistic.
"He has his own agenda," Ueland said. "It's not the people's agenda in McLeod County."
This past week, Gruenhagen said he still has concerns regarding Minnesota's 2020 election. In emails he cited accusations of election fraud through ballot harvesting in Minneapolis from 2018 when residents were allegedly paid to vote. He also cited complaints of changes to voting rules that came about due to a lawsuit from a left-leaning group, which Simon did not oppose, and skipped legislative approval. Both subjects were discussed in New House Republican Caucus videos featuring Minnesota State Rep. Steve Drazkowski, which Gruenhagen referenced.
He also pointed to France’s banning of mail-in voting in 1975 due to fears of voter fraud, a video highlight reel of Democrats calling into question election security prior to 2020, and referenced Minnesota GOP Election Integrity Committee recommendations on voting security. Those recommendations, which follow Republican National Convention initiatives, include:
- a cleaning of voter rolls,
- elimination of same-day and automatic voter registration,
- voter ID requirements,
- prohibition of ballot harvesting, and
- reforms for voting process transparency.
"I also was chief author of the voter ID bill in the House and I had (approximately) 20 co-authors, all Republicans, and not one DFL would sign on," Gruenhagen said. "Voter ID would go a long way to solving the election controversies, but the DFL refused to hear (the) bill in committee."
IS A FORENSIC AUDIT NEEDED?
Also late last month, Gruenhagen signed an open letter calling for all 50 states to undergo a forensic audit. The letter is signed by 41 state legislators, primarily from Arizona, but including several other states. Gruenhagen is the only legislator from Minnesota who signed the letter.
"It has come to our attention from an audit of 2.1 million ballots in Arizona complemented by an in-depth canvass of votes in Arizona, as well as through multiple different data reviews of voting by independent experts; that our representative republic suffered a corrupted 2020 election," the letter reads.
The letter calls for the United States House of Representatives to decide the winner of the election if an audit shows Biden would receive fewer than 270 electoral votes, or if Trump would receive more than 270.
In response to questions about the letter, Gruenhagen shared an email from Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers that shares figures claiming thousands of discrepancies and reactions to the findings of a group called Cyber Ninjas, which was hired by Arizona state Senate Republicans to audit the 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County, Arizona.
“Any one of these discrepancies would be enough to merit decertification,” Rogers said in the email.
A forensic audit of voting machines found no malfeasance, lawsuits challenging Arizona’s election outcome have been dismissed, and multiple hand recounts, including those done by Cyber Ninjas, have confirmed the Maricopa County election results.
“Truth is truth, numbers are numbers,” said Karen Fann, the Arizona Senate Republican who commissioned the vote review.
In Minnesota and many other states, statutes already require post-election reviews, or audits.
"I believe in our county’s and state's election processes as administered, and I have witnessed McLeod County recounts where our equipment was proven to count accurately," said McLeod County Auditor-Treasurer Connie Kurtzweg, who is in charge of administering local elections.
The Minnesota Statewide Voter Registration System database is regularly updated throughout the year with information exchanged with the Department of Health and county election officials.
"Prior to election day, all equipment to be used in the election is tested by county election officials," Kurtzweg said, "then followed by additional testing by the precinct election officials during Public Accuracy Test as stated in Minnesota Administrative Rules 8220.1550."
Kurtzweg also pointed to paper ballots used in all Minnesota precincts as another check on election integrity.
"If the ballots need to be recounted they can be,” she said.
Many are recounted.
Following elections, Kurtzweg said, every county in Minnesota audits its votes before certifying them to the state. Statute 206.89 also requires counties to perform post-election reviews of election results returned by the optical scan ballot counters. Each eligible election — U.S. president, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and governor — is reviewed with a hand count of the ballots in precincts selected randomly by the canvassing board. Results are posted to the Secretary of State's website.
Despite these checks, Republican legislators feel more is needed to protect against voter fraud.
Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, said that while there are audits in Minnesota, they have not had the detail a forensic audit would provide. He thinks there was probably some manner of aberration, but the extent is unknown.
"They haven't found anything yet, but I think an in-depth investigation isn't a bad thing," he said. "I'm also concerned about elections going forward."
All Minnesota votes are cast on paper ballots, but some technology is used to tabulate, assist those who need help filling out ballots, and track registration. Urdahl said he would like Minnesota to no longer use digital technology at voting locations going forward.
"Maintaining our voter integrity is essential to our democracy," he said. "We have to make sure, going forward, it's done properly. Because of the pandemic and other issues we strayed away from that."
Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, called the issue of a forensic audit in Minnesota “a very difficult question.”
"After the 2020 election, there were multiple investigations, multiple court cases around the nation,” he said. “So far, no wrongdoing that I am aware of has been uncovered.”
But he believes some form of voter fraud always has and always will exist. He doesn't know if it's to the scale some Republicans believe. There is, however, a second issue, he said: trust.
"There really are a lot (of voters) who feel fraud occurs, and occurred in the 2020 election," Newman said. "Whether or not it's true is important. But what's also important is the faith people have (in the process)."
He listed mail-in ballots with no witnesses or notaries, and Minnesota's lack of a voter ID law among his top concerns. He thinks changes would help restore some Republicans’ faith in elections and lessen the calls for an audit.
“I would feel much better if the Democrats would agree to some voting integrity reforms,” Newman said.