Courtesy: Fox News
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Governor Tim Pawlenty Wednesday latched on to the notion that felons voting illegally may have tipped the 2008 Minnesota senate race in favor of Al Franken.
In a live interview on FOX News Pawlenty said the conservative group known as Minnesota Majority had uncovered "credible evidence" that hundreds of felons voted illegally in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties.
"I suspect they favored Al Franken," the governor told the FOX morning hosts, "I don't know that. But if that turned out to be true they may have flipped that election in a very close election."
The Minnesota Majority suggested so many felons voted illegally they would have, in theory, provided Democrat Franken his 312-vote margin of victory over Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. FOX News ran with the report earlier in the week, and Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund went on FOX and stated as fact that "hundreds of felons" voted in those two counties.
Reality much different
In reality, that has not been proven. And the actual number of felons who voted illegally will likely be much lower based on reviews from prosecutors who received Minnesota Majority's lists in the form of spread sheets in February.
"We received about 480 names from Minnesota Majority," Ramsey County's lead prosecutor Phil Carruthers told KARE Wednesday, "About 270 were clearly inaccurate and were rejected right from the get-go."
He said a quick review revealed the names and birthdates didn't match, or that the felons in question were no longer barred from voting.
"They were ruled out usually because they had the wrong identity of a person," Carruthers explained, "Or because the person no longer was on probation, and thus their civil rights had been restored."
There are 30 felons on the group's list that have been charged with election violations in Ramsey County. But prosecutors had already received those names from the county elections office and the Secretary of State's office, according to Carruthers.
"We've charged about 30 cases so far," he said, "About half of them were people who were felons who just registered but did not actually vote. Election workers flagged those names before they could vote, but it's still a felony for a felon to register."
Those who are being charged with two felonies are felons who registered at the polling place on election day and voted, leaving no time for a cross-check with lists of convicts still on probation
"We're going to continue to investigate 180 other complaints but we're not talking about a huge number of actual cases. And of that 30 about half of them were registration only, they didn't actually vote."
Hennepin County's probe
In Hennepin County the pattern has been much the same. Of 451 names submitted by Minnesota Majority, 235 have been ruled out for prosecution while 216 are under review. Proving such cases is a time-intensive effort, according to Pat Diamond, a deputy county attorney.
"Because we also have to prove that the Joe Johnson who has a felony, whose rights weren't restored, is the same Joe Johnson who showed up at some precinct and voted," Diamond told KARE Wednesday.
He said just because someone's name appears both on a list of felons and a roster of voters doesn't prove they they voted illegally. In Minnesota many felons are granted an early end to their probation, and their rights are automatically restored.
"The voter records as they appear on a computer screen say Joe has 5 years probation," Diamond explained, "But then when you talk to Joe's probation officer he says, 'No, we released Joe after 2 years, or after 3 years.' Well, then Joe can vote."
Conservatives have used the report to make a case for photo ID at the polling place, which is not currently required in Minnesota. Valid ID is needed to register, but not to vote. And yet both of the prosecutors pointed out there's nothing to keep a felon from using legal ID to vote illegally.
"Felons can have driver's licenses," Diamond said, "They don't say 'felon' on them. They could show up at a polling place with that driver's license and be allowed to vote even though they're not supposed to be voting. This is a matter of getting the voting records right from the start."
The Minnesota Majority blamed Secretary of State Mark Ritchie for the felons who voted. But Diamond said Ritchie has promoted bi-partisan legislation that actually made those voter rolls and voting histories much more accurate and up to date.
"He's gotten the system into this century, so it's actually much easier to prevent felons from voting now. I'm going to trial in August with two cases of felons who voted, that were flagged by election workers."
Pawlenty joins in
Political analyst David Schultz of Hamline University said he was surprised to see Gov. Pawlenty buy into the theory that felons tipped the election, especially when the facts don't support it yet.
"One, it makes an assumption that it's been proven that these felons have voted illegally, which isn't the case," Schultz told KARE, "And, two, it makes the assumption that these felons voted overwhelmingly in favor of Franken."
Ballots are secret, and once a ballot is scanned and counted it can't be matched to a specific voter's name.
He said he believes Pawlenty is appealing to the conservative Republican base as part of the run-up to his presidential campaign in 2012. But, in so doing, he's calling the integrity of Minnesota's election system into question.
"There's a certain segment of the population, people who believe Democrats can't win unless felons and immigrants vote illegally. He's trying to appeal to that group to further his presidential campaign."
The same things were said during the early stage of the Franken-Coleman recount in 2008, when Pawlenty voiced concern about election fraud.
"I mean, you have somebody driving around with 30 to 40 ballots in their car. How does that happen?"
That was based on reports from bloggers that a Hennepin County election official found a stack of uncounted ballots in her trunk. Those stories were later proven false.
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