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Olmsted County administrator: Data misinterpretation led to group's 2020 election concerns

A report given to Olmsted County commissioners appears to tally registered voter categories with incorrect assumption that all voted.

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Sheryl Warfield looks over her ballot while voting in a primary election Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, at Mayo High School in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist/Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — A group alleging the Olmsted County votes counted in 2020 outnumbered the county’s eligible voters appears to have added the wrong numbers.

County Administrator Heidi Welsch said a report from the Olmsted County Elections Integrity Group appears to have added the number of registered voters prior to Election Day – 100,815 – and the number who registered on Election Day – 5,786 – with the assumption that they all voted.

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“There are two problems with this calculation,” she wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to the group’s chairman, Roger Mueller. “First, these numbers are registered voters, not actual votes cast. In other words, not everyone who is registered actually votes.”

The actual number of ballots reported being cast in Olmsted County was 91,864, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office.

When the group compared what it represented as 106,601 ballots cast to a reported 104,234 registered voters on Dec. 20, 2020, it raised concerns, according to a report distributed to county commissioners by county resident Dave Sprenger.

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However, Welsch addresses the conflicting numbers by pointing out some voters who were registered before polls opened needed to re-register on Election Day, due to a name change or address change.

As a result, adding the two registration numbers would provide an inflated count, since some voters appear on both lists.

Heidi Welsch

“Because of these errors, the author (of the group’s report) also draws an incorrect conclusion that more people voted than should have,” she said.

Addressing the commissioners before their Aug. 16 meeting, the group also asked for access to voter registration postcards that were returned to the county.

Welsch said that won’t be allowed, and the cards have been processed according to state guidelines.

Byron resident Frederick Nolting said the group wants to see the cards to ensure “all the deceased people are removed (from voter rolls) and that any extraneous people listed that are not actual people or at actual addresses be removed.”

Welsch said the cards wouldn’t necessarily provide that information, since there are several reasons why a card could be returned as undelivered when a registered voter lives at the address.

“Returned (postal verification cards) do not necessarily indicate a voter’s ineligibility to participate in Minnesota elections,” she wrote in the letter to Mueller. “There are numerous reasons why someone’s card may be returned, such as they are temporarily away vacationing, they are in the military and stationed overseas, or they have moved since the last election and need to update their address.”

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Lastly, Welsch sought to address concerns raised by Sprenger regarding a shift in the county’s political balance.

“Olmsted County saw particularly large increases in registered voters between 2017 and 2020. There are several reasons for this increase,” she wrote. “First, there was an intense public interest in the elections, which drove more people to register and vote. Second, both registration and voting were easier to accomplish because it became easier to vote by mail. Third, the population of the county continued to increase, which drives a similar increase in voter registrations.”

She said none of the trends point to election fraud, but they do reflect the nature of the national election.

“The 2020 election elicited strong interest and emotions from voters across the nation and the data show many more people voting for both parties, with a clear majority voting Democratic,” she wrote. “These local data are not against the trend.”

Members of the Olmsted County Elections Integrity Group said they plan to attend the commissioners’ Sept. 6 meeting to continue addressing their concerns.

Election Response Letter Final 08-24-22 by randy on Scribd

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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