By News Tribune Editorial Board
Long before the puzzling proclamation by President Donald Trump that he would have won the popular vote, too, “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” suspicions and allegations of voter fraud were dominating news cycles and occupying everyone from conspiracy theorists to partisan political pundits.
But there’s little reason to waste time debating or deciphering the issue here, according to the two officials who should know: Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon and St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin.
“Voter fraud is not a problem here in St Louis County. Most allegations involve inadvertent mistakes on status,” Rubin told the News Tribune Opinion Page.
In last fall’s election in St. Louis County, there were 42 allegations of voter fraud, but most of them, 29 of them, were “proven to be unfounded and not instances of fraud,” according to Rubin. While 13 matters remain under investigation, not a single allegation has led to a criminal charge here.
Similarly, statewide, “We’ve been very fortunate,” Simon told News Tribune editorial board members recently. “As you know, there have been some national allegations, let’s just say, about the scope of voter fraud. I think the president has said on more than one occasion, he has said it’s 3 million to 5 million (who voted illegally). There just really is no basis for that. That really was an unfortunate and irresponsible allegation.
“That’s not to say there aren’t some bad actors. Of course there are. I’d be foolish to say there aren’t,” Simon continued. “But it’s a very isolated, minimal problem in Minnesota. I’m in very close touch with the county attorneys, individually and with their association. They’re the ones who, if there are reports or even if there are suspicions of any wrongdoing on the registration side or on the voting side, they’re the ones who look into it. And they do. They must.”
Simon’s office in February crunched the numbers and determined there were 13 credible instances of wrongful voting in eight Minnesota counties last fall. Most involved felons who didn’t realize they weren’t allowed to cast ballots. There was one incident of a non-citizen voting.
“Reports … are minimal. They’re tiny. Now, they should be zero, of course. We’d all love them to be zero. But they’re really, really tiny, and that’s a good thing,” Simon said. “It’s 13 too many. … But, really, it’s a very controlled, small, isolated phenomenon.
“We have to always be watchful, of course,” he continued. “There’s always going to be someone who tries to game the system. We just have to watch out for it.”
By most indications, Minnesota is doing a good job of watching out, it seems. While computer hacking to tamper with voter-registration rosters and cybersecurity hiccups grabbed headlines in places like Arizona and Illinois, Minnesota stayed scandal-free. Credit the old-fashioned paper ballots we fill out with actual pens and the counting machines into which we feed our ballots that cannot, in accordance with law, be connected to the Internet.
“It’s hard to hack paper,” Simon said. “That paperless office we were all promised, some (elections officials around the country) really went in for that 10 or 15 years ago. They did the digital touch screens, no paper trail, no receipts. I wouldn’t have wanted to be them this last fall with all these headlines, and I think there was some real high anxiety out there.
“We’ve been very fortunate. We’ve also spent a lot of time, money and effort to be sure we’re one step ahead,” said Simon. “We have a new cybersecurity team in our office. We spent money on an outside consultant. … We basically said, ‘Come on in and find our vulnerabilities. Do you best.'”
The consultant’s analysis came back without concerns.
“We were not hacked, compromised, penetrated in any way, which is great,” Simon said. “To stay one step ahead of the bad guys: it’s tough.”
But it’s critically important, especially in a new reality wrought with allegations, whether substantiated or not, of voter fraud and election-tampering. Continued vigilance can assure it remains a non-issue for St. Louis County and across Minnesota.