The Cornish letter
Witness its use on Saturday, October 27, 2012, by State Representative Tony Cornish (R-Good Thunder) in an op-ed piece placed in the Mankato Free Press, My View: Voter ID needed for fraud, won't be a burden to voting:
“There is no voter fraud! It’s a solution in search of a problem by those darned Republicans who only want their people to vote! It’s scary!"
Oops! Turns out Voter ID opposition is April Fools from liberals. They forgot about this . . .
In 2010, an election judge in Harris, Minn., tried to stop 12 people from using a laundromat’s address to register and vote, according to testimony in the Minnesota House Government Operations Committee last March.
. . . Up to 500,000 people vote in Minnesota without any verification of their identity or address. That’s how people register from laundromats and addresses that don’t exist.
Bluestem hasn't been to Harris, Minnesota, and so we are unable to attest to the existance or nonexistance of the laundromat there. People must wash their clothes somehow.
But we remember a slightly different story being aired about the beautiful laundrette last spring.
The Smisson House committee testimony
It's easy to demonstrate the shape and time shifting of this narrative. Fortunately, WeWantVoterID, an offshoot of Minnesota Majority, posted a Youtube of former Harris mayor Rick Smisson's March 8, 2012 testimony.
And while Mr. Smisson seems a bit nervous at giving testimony to the Minnesota House Government Operations Committee, it's clear that he says the dudes used the laundromat's address for same-day registration in "the year Al Franken was elected."
That would be 2008. Not 2010.
Smisson says in the video clip of his testimony:
My name is Rick Smisson. I'm not representing any group. I just came here today because I've been an election judge for the last--since I move to Minnesota 20 years ago. So i just wanted to share a little bit of my experience.
I don't do election judging . . .as a way to make money. . . .It's actually a sacrifice. I do it because it's important and the real value added in being an election judge is not pushing the papers around. It's ensuring the vote is accurate. And that's why we spend hours each night making sure the vote is counted accurately.
But where that breaks down is when we don't know that somebody is only voting once. So I wanted to share an experience that we had. This was just a few years ago; it was the year Al Franken was elected .
We had an incident. I live in a small town of about 900 people and we had — I’m not sure. I called one of the city council members to ask him. It was between 10 and 13 people came into the same day registration table. And by the way, I election judge all the time so I’ve seen situations like this, not necessarily exactly like this but very similar ones.
On this particular night, between 10 and 13 people showed up for same day registration. They all claimed that the local laundromat address as their residence. When we challenged it, we called the State Auditor's Office and we were told that there was nothing we could do about it. We were told that we couldn’t interfere with their right to vote but we could make note of it.
That's how strong our laws are. When I went through election judge training, I was told that if somebody wants to vote, there's really nothing you can do. There's nothing you can do to stop somebody from voting three or four times except report it after the fact. We need something that stops them before the fact. I want my vote and everybody else's vote to count. Thank you.
Here's the clip:
So where did Tony Cornish get the idea that Smisson was talking about the 2010 election? Or Steve Fults, of Donnolly, Minnesota, who wrote in Minnesota has rich history of voter fraud, his letter to the Morris Sun:
. . .In 2010, an election judge in Harris, Minn. tried to stop 12 cases of voter fraud when the address of a laundromat was used by all 12. . .
The Blogger's missing link
Where's that 2010 date coming from, if Mr. Smisson makes it quite clear that he's talking about 2008? Bluestem believes that it's being taken from loose readings of If there isn’t a problem, why did Ritchie propose a solution? a True North entry by St. Cloud blogger Gary Gross that's cross-posted at his personal site, Let Freedom Ring.
While Bluestem doesn't think that Gross intended to mislead his readers about the year (he mentions it in other posts), he doesn't mention it in this post, nor does he link to the Youtube excerpt or the online archive at the House video trove. Surely an oversight.
This testimony is particularly damning to TakeAction Minnesota’s and the League of Rural Voters’ case:
RICK SMITHSON: We had an incident. I live in a small town of about 900 people and we had — I’m not sure. I called one of the city council members to ask him. It was between 10 and 13 people came into the same day registration table. And by the way, I election judge all the time so I’ve seen situations like this, not necessarily exactly like this but very similar ones.
On this particular night, between 10 and 13 people showed up for same day registration. They all claimed that the local laundromat address as their residence. When we challenged it, we called the State Auditors Office and we were told that there was nothing we could do about it. We were told that we couldn’t interfere with their right to vote but we could make note of it.
King Banaian defeated Carol Lewis by 13 votes in the 2010 election. Rep. Banaian now represents eastern St. Cloud in the state legislature. The League of Rural Voters, Common Cause MN, the League of Women Voters MN and TakeAction Minnesota have said that voter fraud is rare. . . .
Since the quoted testimony is immediately followed by an example from 2010--and there's no way for the reader to check with the primary source--it's easy to see why Cornish and Fults might see The Beautiful Laundrette tale to be as fresh as newly-washed clothes pulled from the line.
But there's another time-shift in Smisson's story that's more perplexing than misunderstandings created by skimming--and a blogger forgetting to add a link.
There's the federal lawsuit to which Smisson is a party.
The lawsuit: a 2006 incident
There's the amended lawsuit (12-CV-00519 DWF-LIB),filed on March 13, 2012, in which Rich Smisson and Kathleen Olson joined the Minnesota Voters Alliance, the Minnesota Freedom Council and five other individuals to strike down same day registration.
A different backstory prevails in the lawsuit; the story begins on page 17 of the pdf. The "incident" took place in 2006, Mr. Smisson was a candidate for re-election as mayor and Kathleen Olson, a Harris city council member, who were contacted by an election judge. The registrants numbered "up to 10 persons."
Smission won that election by 12 votes.
Mr. Smisson claims he, along with Kathleen Olson and former Harris City Clerk Jennifer Wothe, phoned the Chisago County Auditor, Dennis Freed--not the State Auditor's Office, which has nothing to do with elections. Dennis Freed is one of the parties being sued.
Here's the lawsuit; scroll to page 17 to read the section on Mr. Smisson and Ms. Nelson's complaint.
Mr. Freed stated in a sworn affidavit that he does not recall such a phone call.
In the affidavit, the county auditor goes on to say that if the call had taken place, he would have instructed Mr. Smisson and Ms. Olson to fill out a challenge form. Election judges are trained to do this. But neither Mr. Smisson nor Ms. Olson filled out the paperwork in 2006.
Here's the affidavit
The lawsuit was subsequently dismissed in August, to much media attention. Jim Ragsdale's Federal judge shoots down challenge to state's election system in the Star Tribune, is one excellent example.
An amended appeal was filed on October 9, 2012, although The Beautiful Laundrette isn't mentioned in the brief.
Representative Cornish and Mr Fults ask readers to to amend our constitution based on an incident that occurred in 2010. Or 2008. Or 2006, when Mary Kiffmeyer was Secretary of State. The incident turned up in legislative testimony and in a so-far unsuccessful lawsuit.
Unfortunately, Smisson didn't fill out the challenge form that would have triggered an official investigation back in 2006.
Perhaps the former mayor is simply caught in a Groundhog's Day situation where the same fellows register anew each year, using the address of the local laundromat, and their names magically disappear from the rolls every year.
Certainly, updating the year of the incident from 2006 to 2008 and then to 2010 makes the "fraud" seem much more of a threat.
Bluestem has a couple of additional questions about the Smisson incident of 2006 (or 2008 -- or the Cornish 2010 if you prefer), but will have to wait for additional information.
But after examining the shifts in this story, we're puzzled why it's thought so strong by those who want to overhaul voting in Minnesota.
Hat-tip to the ever-excellent Max Hailperin.
Photo: Tony Cornish, time traveler.