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Trust in elections system key issue in Minnesota secretary of state race

DFLer Steve Simon, who is running for his third term, has spent much of his time on the campaign trail trying to dispel myths about the election system and boosting confidence in Minnesota elections administration. GOP challenger Kim Crockett is running largely on the premise that the current election system is vulnerable to fraud and manipulation.

crockett and simon.JPG
Secretary of State Steve Simon, left, and Kim Crockett are seen in this composite photo.
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ST. PAUL — The election for Minnesota secretary of state has garnered considerably more attention this year as a Democratic-Farmer-Labor incumbent who has touted his work to expand voter participation faces a Republican challenger skeptical of the results of the 2020 election and the integrity of the state's election system.

DFLer Steve Simon, who is running for his third term as secretary of state, has spent much of his time on the campaign trail trying to dispel myths about the election system and boosting confidence in Minnesota election administration. GOP challenger Kim Crockett is running largely on the premise that the current election system is vulnerable to fraud and manipulation.

That key difference was highlighted in an Oct. 2 debate on WCCO radio , where the candidates offered very different answers when asked by the moderator about their confidence in the elections system and if they would accept the results of the 2022 election. Simon said he did and would accept the results, while Crockett did not directly answer, calling it an “odd question.”

“We aren't there yet; we're weeks out,” she told moderator Blois Olson. “We'll just have to see what happens between now and the certification of the election.”

Crockett issued a statement Friday afternoon to clarify her position on accepting the election results.

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"Unless the race for secretary of state is so close that there is a recount under Minnesota law, I will accept the result of the 2022 election, win or lose," the statement said. "The two-part question struck me as odd because Election Day, Nov. 8th was five weeks away. A lot can happen in five weeks."

 Minnesota DFL State Convention
Secretary of State Steve Simon gives his endorsement speech during the Minnesota DFL State Convention Saturday, May 21, 2022, at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minnesota.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Crockett, who has described the 2020 election as “rigged” due to expanded absentee ballot access during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, said she is running to restore faith in the election system. In response to criticism of her comments, she says Democrats are attempting to shut down the conversation about election integrity in 2020 and argues Democrats have questioned election results in the past.

Simon has called Crockett's comments "outlandish" and "dangerous."

“Her extremism is unfortunate, and it is disqualifying," he said during the debate. "I want to build on our Minnesota success story, I have trust and confidence in Minnesota’s elections because I have trust and confidence in Minnesotans. Together we built a great system.”

ELECTION 2022:
Election judges found a single mismarked ballot in the hand count of four randomly selected precincts as part of the effort to confirm the accuracy of voting machines.

That key distinction between the two candidates' views on the election system has popped up in secretary of state elections in states across the U.S. Amid persistent and unproven allegations the 2020 election was stolen from President Donald Trump, the typically unglamorous but vital task of elections administration has become a politicized issue.

With more at stake in the typically sleepy down-ballot races, a crop of Republican secretary of state candidates skeptical of the current election administration systems and the results of 2020 have appeared in key states including Michigan and Arizona . In response, Democrats and Democrat-aligned groups have marshaled vast resources to defend these seats from candidates they pan as “election deniers.”

Secretary Simon has enjoyed a considerable cash advantage for the entire election cycle, and now has the support of national groups. One group called iVote is spending $2 million on TV ads in support of Simon in Minnesota, POLITICO reported, outside spending Crockett has decried as “dark money.” Crockett has not enjoyed Simon's level of outside backing.

Minnesota State Republican Convention
Kim Crockett speaks during the Minnesota State Republican Convention on Friday, May 13, 2022, at Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minnesota.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

The amount of cash getting thrown around in Minnesota’s secretary of state contest this year versus previous years illustrates the growth in interest. Simon’s September report to the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board showed he had raised just shy of $800,000 for his 2022 campaign. Compare that to roughly $195,000 at the same point in 2018. In 2022, Crockett so far has raised just over $286,000 for her campaign.

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Policies and priorities

Like other down-ballot statewide races like attorney general and auditor, some recent polls have placed Crockett and Simon neck and neck with Election Day now only a month away. A KSTP/Survey USA poll released Thursday showed Simon with 42% support and Crockett with 40% with 18% undecided. A poll released Sept. 20 from Alpha News/Trafalgar Group showed the candidates within 1% of each other. A Minnesota Public Radio, Star Tribune and KARE 11 poll from mid-September showed Simon leading Crockett 48%-40%.

One of Crockett's biggest criticisms of Simon is his move to change state voting regulations to expand access to absentee ballots in the 2020 election as part of a response to the pandemic. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Simon’s decision to count absentee ballots received after Election Day in 2020 was unconstitutional, as it changed election law without legislative approval, a decision Crockett agrees with. Those changes included removing the need for a witness signature on absentee ballots. She also questions whether Minnesota should have a six-week early voting period.

Crockett, who previously served as vice president and general counsel for The Center of the American Experiment, a Minnesota conservative think tank, said she would back voter identification efforts in the Minnesota Legislature, cross-check voter registration lists against other databases, review ballot security for absentee ballots and require random post-election audits.

She says she would work to ban third-party involvement in elections, such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's Center For Tech and Civic Life, which provided $400 million to local governments to help run the 2020 election. Critics, who call the funds "Zuckerbucks," claim the donations constitute interference. Crockett says $7 million ended up going to Minnesota local governments.

Meanwhile, Simon takes pride in Minnesota’s status as No. 1 in the nation for voter turnout for the last three elections — nearly 80% in 2020 — and hopes if elected to another term that he can work toward boosting that number further through increasing transparency, access and confidence in the system.

He cast theories about 2020 fraud as outlandish, comparing them with well-known conspiracy theories popular in American culture.

"We have people in America who think that you know Elvis is still alive or that the moon landings were fake,” he told Forum News Service in a June interview. “What's different here is what the disinformation has inspired it has inspired an attack on the United States Capitol, and in my view, has inspired attacks on the freedom to vote in many state capitols."

This story was updated at 5:13 p.m. on Oct. 7, 2022 with a quote from a media release from Kim Crockett. It was originally posted at 12:23 p.m.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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