Squeaky-clean Minnesota on alert for voter fraud

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota, long known for high voter turnout and clean elections, is the subject of intense scrutiny this year as thousands prepare to sniff out voter fraud or other possible problems on Election Day.

Blame it on Florida 2000 and the bitter aftermath, Minnesota's role as a swing state or the partisan political climate. Whatever it is, Minnesota has never seen anything quite like the perfect storm rolling toward this Nov. 2.

"This is a huge thing. The DFL is talking about targeting 600 precincts," said Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. "There's a level of paranoia, at least on behalf of the progressive groups. Those groups are afraid this is going to be another Florida."

Republicans, too, are quietly mobilizing waves of election lawyers and poll-watchers, who are suspicious about thousands of newly registered voters heading to the polls on Election Day and are prepared to mount challenges.


Even nonpartisan groups are massing Election Day teams to ensure that every eligible Minnesota voter can cast a ballot.

"We've had a wonderful tradition in Minnesota -- the openness, the commitment that every vote does matter, it's been a really incredible system for a long time," said Pam Costain, state coordinator for Election Protection Minnesota 2004. "In some ways, it's almost sad, that we have a system where precautions have to be taken this year. But we do think that's the case."

Costain's group, which is not officially affiliated with any campaign or party, is assembling more than 100 lawyers and others to monitor Minnesota voting problems, ranging from disability access, to language difficulties, to tribal identification disputes, to ensuring that the polls remain open for anyone in line by the 8 p.m. closing time.

It will also use a national toll-free line, 1-866-OURVOTE, where anyone can report problems.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican, is overseeing the state's sprawling Election Day machinery and sounds hopeful about the training and safeguards instituted for Nov. 2.

"I would expect that there may be some small issues that would come up, which is typical in any election," Kiffmeyer said. "The difference this year is the high visibility of these things."

To react to problems quickly, the secretary of state has established a new 50-person rapid-response team.

The Bush-Cheney campaign did not respond to inquiries about its Election Day plans dealing with voter fraud and election safeguards.


Nevertheless, state Republicans -- including Kiffmeyer -- have expressed concern about possible voter fraud, particularly the strange case of a St. Louis Park man arrested last month with more than 300 completed voter registration cards in his trunk.

For its part, the Kerry-Edwards campaign is assembling a monitoring effort unmatched in Minnesota history.

Coordinator Jim Mogen speaks of training thousands of regular voters in "election law for lay people," amassing a squad of 600 Minnesota lawyers who can respond instantly to voting problems and establishing a network of observers to ensure that all eligible voters can vote.

"There has never been this level of a project in Minnesota, ever," Mogen said. "This is 100 times bigger than 2002, which was a pretty big issue because of the Wellstone issue and the paper ballots."

In that election, Sen. Paul Wellstone died in an airplane crash shortly before the election and was hurriedly replaced on the ballot by former Vice President Walter Mondale.

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