With a couple of slight modifications, Tony Cornish is repeating his false statement about voter registration fraud taking place in Harris, MN, in 2010. The latest place he's placed this exurban legend is in the Grand Forks Herald, with Tony Cornish, Vernon Center, Minn., column: Claims about Voter ID don’t hold up.
In My Beautiful Laundrette meets Back to the Future: Harris voter fraud shape-shifting story, Bluestem Prairie demonstrated that Representative Tony Cornish's claim in a column in the Mankato Free Press:
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.
was simply incorrect, as the person making the testimony said that the incident happened in 2008.
Additional inquiry demonstrated that after giving the testimony on March 8, 2012, Smisson joined a lawsuit several days later in which he claimed that the incident happened in 2006, when he was running for re-election as mayor.
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.
In the statement of the Chisago County Auditor Dennis Freed filed for the lawsuit, Freed noted that no challenge to the registrations had been filed. He did not recall the phone call taking place, but noted had it happened, he would have outlined the process by which election judges (and other concerned voters) can challenge registrations they suspect are fraudulent.
Having since obtained the statements of the election judge, Alisa Rossini, former Mayor Richard Smisson and former Harris City Council Member Kathleen Olson, it appears that no challenges to the ballots were mounted.
In looking today at the 2012 Election Judge Manual, this process seems quite clear (it's unlikely the manual has changed drastically since 2006, as only a minor change to the challenge process has been made by the state legislature). Moreover, state law suggests that election judges "shall" make these challenges when they are as suspicious as Rossini was:
At about 1:00PM Ken Kabanuk came in to vote. At the time he was living in the back end of the local Laundromat three doors down. This was not a legal residence and was in fact zoned commercial, but he had it listed as his residence on his driver’s license. It was widely known that Mr. Kabanuk did in fact live there. Mr. Kabanuk brought with him somewhere between 8 and 12 other people that he claimed were also living in this tiny little Laundromat.
The law reads:
Subdivision 1. Manner of challenging. An election judge shall, [emphasis added] and an authorized challenger or other voter may, challenge an individual whom the person knows or reasonably believes is not an eligible voter.
Nearly six years later, Rossini claims that she argued about whether these individuals could cast their votes, but she does not state that she filed a challenge as the law requires. Had this been done, the auditor and the county attorney would have been able able to pursue a felony complaint, not only against those suspected of fraudulently registering to vote, but the individual vouching for them as well.
Nor does she noted that she recorded the episode on the incident log.
And while Olson and Smission also note their frustration, neither do they mention actually challenging those registering.
This enough to change the state constitution?
Because the lawsuit was dismissed, no discovery was made on the facts presented in the sworn statements, but a second post, My Beautiful Laundrette meets Back to the Future, Part II: a peculiar casting credit in the City of Harris voter registration fraud script, Bluestem has already noted an error of fact in the lawsuit and in Smisson and Olson's statements.
The lawsuit and the statements placed Jennifer Wothe in the room when Olson and Smisson claim to have made the speaker phone call to Freed, in the presence of election judge Rossini (her statement doesn't mention Wothe). Both Olson and Smisson described Wothe as the "city clerk."
As Bluestem noted in Part II, Wothe's service to the City of Harris didn't begin until late December:
Wothe served as Harris city clerk beginning on December 21, 2006. Cambridge Star assistant editor Tesha Christensen reported in "Harris hires city clerk: Jennifer Wothe to begin Dec. 21":
The decision to hire Wothe was made following a lengthy city council meeting on Monday night, Nov. 27, 2006. At that meeting, the top three of 65 candidates were interviewed by the city council. . . .
Since letting go Kim Hugger in May, Harris has been contracting out its city clerk services.
Reached by phone, Wothe confirmed that she did not work for the City of Harris on Election Day 2006. She had no knowledge of the lawsuit and could not comment. In an odd twist of fate, Wothe was working in the Minnesota Secretary of State's office in November 2006--a fact confirmed by the Human Resources office at the Minnesota Department of Administration which stated in an email response to a query that Wothe worked in the SOS office from "2/22/2006 through 12/20/2006"-but she has absolutely no connection with this lawsuit. Wothe took a new position with the City of Clearwater in 2008.
In Part II, we had wondered if Olson herself was acting clerk on Election Day, 2006 , as is mentioned the January 8, 2007 Harris City Council minutes under "Public Comment:"
d) Lisa Jorgenson, 42396 Ginger Avenue, restated her request for the cost of the hiring of the new city clerk. Also stated concerns of conflict of interest with Kathy Olson being the Interim City Clerk, a Councilmember and on the Planning Commission. Lastly, welcomed Councilmember John Pelant.
Reached by phone yesterday, the City of Harris Treasurer (the City Clerk position is currently unfilled) tentatively confirmed that Olson herself was acting Harris city clerk, as she had signed the minutes of city council meetings held immediately before (October 23) and after (November 13) the 2006 Election Day (November 7) as interim acting City Clerk Kathy Olson. Another person served as acting clerk following Olson until Wothe joined the staff in late December.
We waiting for a scan of the minutes and will post them when they are emailed to Bluestem. Update: here's the pdf (Scan of council minutes) of Harris city council minutes that confirm that Olson was acting city clerk at the meetings immediately before and after Election Day.
Moreover, a reliable source very familiar with Harris, noted that the laundromat had been closed as a business during 2006 and remained closed several years later when the source left the area.
As we noted at the top of the post, Cornish's slightly-altered text has made it from Mankato to the Grand Forks Herald. Now he writes:
In 2010, an election judge in Harris, Minn., tried to stop 12 people from using a coin-operated laundry’s address to register and vote.
Up to 500,000 people vote in Minnesota without any verification of their identity or address. That’s how people register from coin-op laundries and addresses that don’t exist.
Note how he still needs to have the incident seem fresh as the last election--but has removed Smisson's name. And while it's doubtful that Rossini served as election judge in 2010--she was pretty busy working on the Cravaack campaign and now serves as his deputy chief of staff--she does say in her statement that the 2006 voters weren't seen again in Harris.
Bluestem has contacted the Chisago County Attorney's Office and the Secretary of State's Office about the case, but both declined to comment because the appeal. A call to lawyers representing the Minnesota Voters Alliance, et al, Smisson and Olson in the lawsuit asking for comment was not returned.
So why does Cornish remove the reference the legislative testimony but change the (closed) laundromat to a "coin-operated laundry"? The move makes it easy to repeat his urban legend about Harris in 2010, but more difficult to track it down and fact check.
It's fresh. And it's false.
The Mankato Free Press prints Max Hailperin's rebuttal of Cornish
Bluestem highly doubts the Grand Fork Herald will correct Cornish's false statement, despite the paper's opposition to the . The Mankato Free Press, on the other hand, has published two letters challenging Cornish's facts. The first is by GAC math professor Max Hailperin, who first alerted Bluestem to the time-traveling Harris laundry voter tale.
In Your View: Allegations of election fraud are fishy, Hailperin writes:
Tony Cornish’s Oct. 28 column, “Voter ID needed for fraud, won’t be a burden to voting,” contains many scandalous allegations, including that “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.”
Richard Smisson did testify at the March 8 meeting of that committee, describing himself as an election judge and telling of election-day registrants from a laundromat. However, he described the year as when Sen. Franken was elected (2008 rather than 2010) and was vague about the number (10-13 rather than 12). These discrepancies in Cornish’s retelling are only the first layer of fishiness.
On March 13, Smisson joined a federal lawsuit (12-CV-00519 DWF-LIB) and told a different version of the story. Now the events took place in 2006, Smisson was a candidate for re-election as mayor who was contacted by an election judge, and the registrants numbered “up to 10 persons.”
Smisson claims he phoned the Chisago County Auditor Dennis Freed, along with Kathleen Olson. Freed filed a sworn affidavit that he does not recall such a phone call but would have instructed Smisson and Olson to fill out a challenge form (election judges are trained in this).
Neither Smisson nor Olson did. The lawsuit was subsequently dismissed.
Cornish asks us to amend our constitution based on events that might have occurred in 2006, 2008 or 2010, and that prompted legislative testimony and a belated, dismissed lawsuit, but not the challenge form that would have triggered an official investigation.
Amen. In a second letter, Courtland's Thomas Osborne writes that Cornish's statistics don't make sense.
Go to the Free Press and check it out. Cornish may be wrong, but that's not stopping him.
Photo: Tony Cornish, truth in handcuff (top); Mary Kiffmeyer's side in the War on Voters: firing blanks--will voters surrender anyway? (bottom).