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Minnesota GOP claims 'extreme data abnormalities' in election

A voter speaks with an election official at a polling location on election day in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 3, 2020.

KEREM YUCEL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES/TNS

By STEPHEN MONTEMAYOR | Star Tribune (Minneapolis) | Published: November 21, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS (Tribune News Service) — Election officials on Friday swiftly rejected claims by Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan that "extreme data abnormalities" might have influenced the state's Nov. 3 election.

"The bottom line is you can't just throw out conjecture and guesswork without real evidence," said Risikat Adesaogun, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Secretary of State's office. It was "hard to respond to allegations that are so vague and unformed."

Nonpartisan election officials in Anoka and Wright counties, two main counties cited by Carnahan, said they found nothing that would call into question the integrity or validity of the vote. A Star Tribune analysis of Minnesota election data since 2000, for both presidential and gubernatorial elections, found nothing irregular about this year's voting trends.

Carnahan's attempt to sow doubt over the outcome of the 2020 election follows a coordinated effort by President Donald Trump and his allies to nullify its outcome through more than two dozen court challenges in battleground states.

"We're just trying to shed light on some of the abnormalities we've seen," Carnahan said Friday night. "And where it goes from there remains to be seen at this point."

Carnahan is comparing only votes for Democrats in certain counties in 2012, 2016 and 2020, omitting turnout data from 2018 when Democrats also swept statewide races on the midterm ballot. Her analysis does not account for overall turnout shifts or whether similar patterns emerged in other parts of the state. In a separate Facebook post, Carnahan said she has been in touch with an attorney for Trump's campaign before releasing her statement late Thursday.

Trump has also reportedly pressed officials in Michigan to rescind certification of results in Wayne County, which includes the heavily Democratic city of Detroit, and met at the White House on Friday with GOP lawmakers from that state.

While Democrat Joe Biden defeated Trump by more than 200,000 votes in Minnesota, Republicans prevailed in key down-ballot races, flipping a Western Minnesota congressional seat that had long been held by the DFL and retaining a narrow majority in the state Senate. Two freshman GOP congressmen, including Carnahan's husband, Jim Hagedorn, also won re-election.

Secretary of State Steve Simon has hailed the election as an administrative success devoid of fraud or security lapses. A record 3.2 million Minnesotans voted in the general election and at a turnout rate not seen since 1960. A historic number of absentee ballots — 1.8 million — were cast amid the coronavirus pandemic.

State Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, a Big Lake Republican who leads the Senate's committee on government and elections, earlier this week asked Simon for a report the "conduct of Minnesota's 2020 primary and general elections," citing "anecdotal reports of irregular election activities, questions on software, equipment malfunctions and other concerns" this year.

Kiffmeyer's letter, dated Wednesday, set a Dec. 1 deadline for Simon to respond for requests for information on voting software and tabulation, a consent decree in state court that extended the counting deadline for absentee mail ballots, and the use of federal CARES Act money. Kiffmeyer said the historic uptick in mail ballots in response to COVID-19 has led to "serious concern over the accuracy and compliance of software used to count and capture votes in the state."

A central theme of Republicans' arguments in Minnesota appears to be this: Trump narrowly lost the state in 2016 without a coordinated group of activists and supporters in Minnesota. So why did he lose by nearly 7 points in 2020 after deploying scores of operatives and investing millions of dollars here?

A lack of statewide electoral success is far from an anomaly in recent Minnesota elections. Starting with the 2006 election, Democrats have won 26 statewide contests, to one for Republicans.

Raleigh Hannah Levine, a Mitchell Hamline law professor and election law scholar, said it was not uncommon to have large swings in vote margins from one presidential election to the next, "especially in a very contentious election with such high turnout."

"There has never been anything that would hold up as evidence in any court of law that would suggest that a large swing in vote margin is evidence of voter fraud," she said.

Levine called another strategy sought by Trump whereby state legislatures substitute their own slate of presidential electors as a "serious threat to our democratic process" and an example of the "losing party trying to subvert the democratic process by substituting its preferred candidate for the one lawfully elected by the voters."

"I wish that voters understood how smooth and fraud-free and largely error-free this election was and were not persuaded by unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud that anybody stole the election from anybody else," Levine said.

Wright County Election Administrator Corissa Aronson said she was unaware of Carnahan's concerns and had not been contacted about any irregularities. The only issue local officials detected, she said, was a temporary vendor glitch that uploaded two precincts' results to the online system twice. That mistake was caught and fixed during a manual proofing process.

Aronson said the turnout increase was on par with what she expected based on previous presidential elections, but she added that the county did see a big spike in voter registration.

Suburban voting trends in the Twin Cities metro area mirrored national trends across American suburbs that favored Biden this year and congressional Democrats in the 2018 midterm. Anoka County's roughly 7-point move toward Democrats this year as compared to 2016 mirrors a similar jump from 2014 to 2018 in the gubernatorial race. Wright County, which Trump handily carried both this year and in 2016, still saw Democrats do about 4 points better than the prior presidential election, just as they improved their margins in 2018.

Carnahan previously publicly accepted Biden's Minnesota victory. But in a private Zoom conference call reported on earlier in November by the Minnesota Reformer, a nonprofit news site, Carnahan told GOP activists that she would help amplify unproven claims of ballot fraud made by Trump and other party leaders.

On Friday, Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin described Carnahan's statement as evidence that the state GOP party "has gone all in on Donald Trump's efforts to subvert a free and fair American election based on no evidence whatsoever."

"When election results we do not like become election results we do not accept, American democracy will cease to function," Martin said.

Minnesota's election results of the vote are set to be certified by the state canvassing board on Tuesday.

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Minneapolis Star Tribune staff writers Torey Van Oot and Jeff Hargarten contributed to this report.

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