Voter fraud story not quite over

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Brian Rice, we’re waiting. Not for evidence. We waited in vain for that. We’re waiting now for your apology.

The news Thursday was bad for Rice. Hennepin County investigated his claim of a “coordinated effort” to have people vote illegally using the address of a business that rents mailboxes. They dismissed this allegation not merely for insufficient evidence, and not even for no evidence. They actually disproved the charge. Ouch.

Wasn’t hard to disprove. From the Minnpost link, “In fact, all but 16 of the people who registered there had done so before January of this year.”

That was Thursday. It’s now Monday. Well? Any apology coming? Rice surely knew he was dragging the reputations of legal voters through the metaphorical mud. He took his claim to an irresponsible media outlet to play up the story, knowing how voter fraud claims incite the partisans of the right, knowing he was throwing charges at an immigrant community that is detested in some quarters. How detested? Let’s put it this way: the Star Tribune stopped enabling comments on articles on certain subjects because of the hate speech those subjects attract, and one of those subjects was Somalis. Articles on Somalis bring out the racists, nativists, and islamophobes. Rice must have been aware this was the atmosphere into which he was throwing his scurrilous charges.

It didn’t have to happen this way. Had Rice restrained himself to claiming it appeared some people voted from an address that wasn’t a residence, he would have been fine. There was evidence for that. He could have said that without claiming or implying organized fraud or individual fraud. That would have saved him looking churlish in light of this paragraph:

A large number of the improper registrations were the result of the change-of-address process, which requires Hennepin County officials to update registration information when voters move. Though many of the 141 voters involved in the complaint maintain a mailbox at the Cedar Avenue center — it’s an easy way for people who move often to keep a permanent mailing address — those voters didn’t expect that their registration information would also change to the mailing center’s address.

In other words, many of the 141 did things right, registering with their current address, and adding the permanent address as the place where mail should be sent, and something got mixed up on the clerical end. Even the rest, where the voters made a mistake, were just voters making a mistake. Not one instance of fraud.

Republicans of course took the bait, jumping up and down in excitement because now the voter fraud accusation was being made by a DFLer. Vindication! Oops. Like every other claim of voter fraud, this one fell apart upon examination. So, Republicans, isn’t it time to admit you were wrong on this one? That you believed a charge that proved false? So far, nothing. A word of advice Republicans: if the information is coming from a Democrat, and you don’t want to get played like this again, then no matter how much you want to believe it, check it out first. You see how I saw right through it. You can do the same.

So what comes next? Phyllis Kahn needs to distance herself from Brian Rice. She should say he no longer works for the campaign, or say she’s embarrassed her campaign was associated with this, but something. Instead, this came out Thursday, today is Monday, and she has said nothing.

I don’t know who will win the primary. There generally aren’t polls for state legislative races, and any for this race haven’t been publicly released. So for all I know, either candidate might already have it in the bag. I do know that if Mohamud Noor wins by less than a blowout, my guess is going to be that this episode made the difference. Even if Kahn narrowly wins, I’m going to guess she would have had a blowout win but for this.

What about the other charges the campaigns have thrown at each other? The Kahn campaign has claimed an election judge at the absentee voting station set up in city hall was urging voters to support Noor. I have no idea if that’s true, but if I have to rely on the Kahn campaign’s word for it, that’s not enough. Both sides have made accusations of intimidation. They’re one person’s word against another, so I don’t know.

I do know that the press has to stop treating claims like news. Demand evidence: documents, video, witnesses willing to go on the record, but something. So far, it seems like anyone claiming anything can go to the press, get the claim repeated, and only then does the investigation begin.