Earlier today, three voters of Somali origin at the Brian Coyle Center in Minneapolis told me — and two told an election observer — that a translator working there was instructing people to vote for Sen. Norm Coleman.
In addition, the presence of a Coleman staffer who says he came to volunteer his services as a challenger or translator also stirred controversy between election judges and GOP challengers on the scene.
The tussles started this morning around 10:30, when three white male Republican vote challengers arrived at the Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis claiming that they had received a phone call indicating that Somali translators there were telling area residents to vote for Democrats.
One of the challengers confronted an election judge with the claim. The Somali community had about eight translators there assisting. The election judge assured that translators were only there to provide language assistance.
The men then called in a GOP-affiliated Somali translator. According to eyewitnesses, he is well-known in the Somali community because he works at Sen. Norm Coleman’s office. The man initially refused to give me his name, but later conceded that he is Mahamoud Wardere, a staffer in Norm Coleman’s US Senate office.
At about the time of his arrival, a few of the community translators were confronted by the remaining white GOP challenger. He asked one woman, who was a volunteer, if she had been sworn in. (Translators do not need to be sworn in.) At another point he told the election judge that the translators could not be at the voting booths “hovering around.” He also confronted some other translators directly, but refused to let me hear what he was saying. At that point, a few translators left, unsure if they were breaking the law. One person told me of feeling “intimidated.”
Later, the election judge asked Wardere to leave the voting area, since he was not allowed to serve as both an election challenger and a translator — for his own part, Wardere initially said he was uncertain whether he was called in as a challenger or a translator — nor could there be two GOP challengers in the room.
But the Coleman staffer did not leave the premises. From around 11:00 onward, Wardere sat in a nearby room, greeting and conversing with people. “People know him and like him,” one person told me. “But we all know him as a campaigner.”
As the day progressed, more confusion ensued about voter laws and Wardere’s role in the polling place. Three eyewitnesses told me that a translator told them to vote for Norm Coleman, though those individuals declined to give their names or point out the specific translator. One man said he was afraid to give his name because he didn’t want people to get mad at him, but added that “it is just not right.”
Myriam Warren of Election Protection, an observer group working polling places today, also told me that two people had made the same complaint to her. She said they complained about a woman in a red headdress, who was greeting “elderly voters,” bringing them to Wardere, then bringing them to the booth and telling them to vote for Norm Coleman.
The election judge, Margie Sanronman, said she has never seen things so ugly. She’s served as a volunteer judge for the precinct for 10 years. “It’s been disruptive all day,” she said. “We’ve had a disruptive challenger. People fighting with each other. They’ve been complaining about people all day.”
The disruptive challenger she spoke of was the GOP challenger, who declined to speak to me.