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Olmsted County election skeptics call for closer look at 2020 results

Election integrity group raises questions about 2020 election with county commissioner and requests to examine voter registration postcards tied to 2022 primary.

Primary Day/CD1 Special Election
Voters take part in primary day and the Minnesota 1st Congressional District special election on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, at Hoover Elementary School in Northwest Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — A group of Olmsted County residents is calling for local action to address a lack of trust in the election process.

Introducing himself as the chairman of the Olmsted County Elections Integrity Group, Stewartville resident Roger Mueller said Tuesday members of the group believe 1,800 extra ballots were counted in Olmsted County during the 2020 election.

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“What that meant was there were 1,800 voted that were counted and there was no voter to match them up with,” he said of the data the group received from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office.

The concerns were raised by the group of approximately 35 during the public comment period before Tuesday’s meeting of the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners.

County resident Dave Sprenger distributed the group’s report related to election data they collected, which states the county had 104,234 registered voters on Dec. 20, 2020, but 106,601 ballots were certified in the 2020 election.

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“There are concerns out there,” he said. “I want to make that clear.”

According to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website on Tuesday, Olmsted County had 100,815 registered voters on Election Day 2020, and 91,385 ballots were counted in the presidential election.

Sprenger said local results of the 2020 presidential election, with 54.1% of the voters backing Joe Biden and 43.4% supporting Donald Trump, also raise questions, since the county hadn’t seen similar margins in the past four presidential elections.

The documents he provided commissioners state that Olmsted County leaned Republican in 2004 and slightly Democrat from 2008 to 2016, but Democrat votes in the 2020 presidential race increased by 36.5%.

While much of the focus was on 2020, one speaker raised a specific concern related to this year’s primary election.

Rochester resident Helen Knight said an election judge at the Redeemer Lutheran Church polling place repeatedly told her husband that he didn’t need to vote in every race on the local primary ballot and could skip races if he didn’t have a preferred candidate.

“It felt like being coached not to vote, especially on the city and board that was on the back side (of the ballot),” she said, adding that complaints were filed with the county, as well as the Rochester City Clerk’s office, which is responsible for the assignment of the city’s election judges.

“I know that there are other things that happened in this election, where protocol wasn’t followed possibly, and other quality-control issues, and we will be taking those down to the county attorney’s office,” she said, without specifically citing concerns during her two minutes allowed for comment.

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Byron resident Frederick Nolting wrapped up the group’s comments by asking that the county allow them to review voter registration postcards sent out for the primary election, in order to confirm they represent actual voters.

“We’d also like to use that and make sure the November voter rolls are up to date, all the deceased people are removed and that any extraneous people listed that are not actual people or at actual addresses be removed,” he said.

He also volunteered the group to man a county election advisory committee to study the concerns and election practices.

“It would be easy to say ‘no’ to that, but the harder decision would likely be to say ‘yes,’” he said.

Mary Blair-Hoeft, Olmsted County's director of Property Records and Licensing, which oversees elections, said voter regisitration postcards are not public information, and any request for voter information must follow the process laid out by the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office.

Additionally, she said, "Olmsted County Elections staff complies with all state and federal election laws related to the voting process to ensure the accuracy and integrity of all elections, including the 2020 election."

Members of the election integrity group said they plan to attend the commissioners’ Sept. 6 meeting for a response to their requests and concerns, but they likely won’t need to wait that long, since county commissioners asked elections staff to prepare a letter addressing the issues raised.

“I’m not saying there is anything in here that I believe, or I think there is anything funny, but I think if people took time out of their day to come here and show up, I think we owe them a response,” Commissioner Jim Bier said, adding that he has confidence in the county’s election staff.

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Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden, who met with the group weeks earlier, agreed, pointing out the group appears earnest in their beliefs.

“They are part of a national movement and a statewide movement around election integrity,” she said. “They are very sincere people and we need to answer their questions and treat them with respect.”

County Administrator Heidi Welsch said staff would prepare the written response and send it to Mueller, while also having copies available for the Sept. 6 meeting, but she also said the group has the ability to reach out to elections staff.

“They have been meeting with Mr. Mueller all along,” she said of the county's election staff. “They are always open to meetings and we’ll extend that again.”

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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