West Bank voter fraud allegations dismissed

Photo by Denise Cross published under Creative Commons License

More than a hundred absentee voters who registered at the address of a mailbox center in Cedar-Riverside will have to re-register under their home addresses — a decision that follows a stir in the Somali community regarding legal voting practices.

At an administrative hearing on Thursday, the Hennepin County Attorney’s office announced that the case of 141 improperly registered voters was not an intentional or organized effort, dismissing allegations of voter fraud.

The hearing came about two weeks after the attorney’s office was prompted to investigate the incident by a petition filed by a lawyer for Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis.

Kahn is facing Somali challenger Mohamud Noor for re-election this November to continue her 42-year career as the State Representative for House District 60B, the seat that represents the West Bank, the University of Minnesota and other Minneapolis neighborhoods.

In a petition filed June 27, Brian Rice, Kahn’s attorney, said more than 140 absentee voters had registered 419 Cedar Avenue South as their residential address — what is actually a commercial space lacking apartments and dominated by Somali shops and money wiring services. Under Minnesota law, voters must register at their home address or face five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

“Voters in Minnesota must vote where they live or reside,” Rice said. “The definition of residence is as simple as where your head hits your pillow at night.”

At the hearing, Dan Rogan, a lawyer for the Hennepin County Attorney’s office, said his office found that there are no residents living at the address on Cedar Avenue, where some voters have registered dating as far back as 2008. And while about 70 people packed an auditorium at the Hennepin County Government Center for the discussion, none of the voters implicated in the case testified that they indeed lived there.

Their votes have been invalidated and their registrations cancelled, said Hennepin County Auditor Mark Chapin at the hearing. He said they must now register at their home address and that his office will release the findings of its investigation early next week.

Omar Jamal, a Somali advocate, said the allegations in Rice’s petition has shaken the Somali community in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, and that Kahn’s campaign owes an apology to the Somali community for “bullying the voters.”

“This allegation has created a tremendous fear,” Jamal said during the hearing. “People don’t want to vote because they’re afraid they have to spend 10 years in prison.”

At the hearing Ginny Gelms, the election director for Hennepin County, outlined how voters could re-register to the proper address, and Chapin urged them to do so.

“We want you to vote,” he said.

The controversy precedes an August 12 Democratic primary that will decide who will have the party’s support in the November election for House District 60B.

Noor — who if elected would be the first Somali-American to serve in the state Legislature — said Rice’s petition and the automatic investigation it triggered is drawing people’s attention away from the election’s issues.

“This is a missed opportunity to bring people together,” Noor said. “Rice is trying to scare people from voting… they want to win through the court system.”

In the petition, Rice said the improper registration of 140 voters could be a “massive attempt to violate Minnesota election laws.” But Rice said he was hoping the rumors he heard prior to filing the petition were false.

Another petition filed by Rice on July 7 is still outstanding, and some say it’s weighing on the community. It questions the neutrality of Minneapolis election judge Fadumo Yusuf. The petition alleges that on June 27, the first day of absentee voting, Yusuf approached voters at City Hall and asked them in Somali if they would vote for “our Somali brother” or “the old Jewish lady.”

POINT(49.5279996 37.1171617)
  • This problem is nothing to fear. People should not be afraid to vote. Somali voters have just begun to vote in regular droves over the past three or four election cycles, so it is certain that many misunderstand the rules, and have never before been taught the rules. Many Somali voters are going to vote for Phyllis Kahn, and others will vote for Mohamud Noor, both Democrats. There is a second Somali from the Independence Party who is also running for the district's House seat. Some votes will be cast for him. I have been both the precinct chair and co-chair of this DFL precinct (Ward 6, Precinct 3) many times since 1993 (when it was earlier defined as Ward 2, Precinct 10), and I have seen greater exhuberance from East Africans in their decision to exercise their right to vote over the past several years. Please, whatever your party or candidate, tell your neighbors, friends and family members to get to know the agendas of each candidate and their strengths and weaknesses. It is wrong to assert that the Kahn campaign has done anything to bully the Somali voters based on Brian Rice's mistaken and overly presumptuous assumption that Mohamud Noor's campaign put people up to registering at the wrong address. It says something of the attorneys level of stress for him to make that assumption in a public manner. That should not deter anyone voting for Phyllis Kahn. I am also very concerned by the date-dropping of how long Representative Kahn has been elected, every two years since 1972, to the House of Representatives, under the shadow of someone declaring that her campaign was [not] bullying voters. She continues to serve with national distinction, and has been an advocate for many New American concerns and programs. Please keep tribe, race and religion out of your mind when you decide for whom you shall vote. That is, don't vote for Mohamud just because he is a Somali; and don't disfavor Phyllis because she is Jewish. Both people have strengths and weaknesses that should be considered. Racism and tribalism drown democracies. Please cast an honest vote on who you believe, in House District 60B, has the best qualities and strengths to continue to make this district a strong one for your ideals. All too often votes become the stuff of political advertisements planting the seeds of who is most socially popular with the electorate. A strong United States and State of Minnesota really depends on all of us being educated voters. Let's do our best, put our fears behind us, and know which address to use when registering to vote. With best wishes, Barry N. Peterson Past DFL MN Senate District 60 Central Committee Member - by Barry N Peterson on Fri, 07/11/2014 - 10:04pm

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