A friend's ears perked up while listening to Blois Olson's interview of endorsed Republican Secretary of State candidate Dan Severson on September 24, 2014.
Asked by Olson about what he perceives to be voter fraud, "Teflon Dan" Severson recites his usual list of debunked anecdotes, then adds a new one at at the 25 minute mark:
Blois Olson: When you bring up this no-excuse absentee voting which is being touted this year, it's being used by candidates of both parties, any pitfalls you see potentially here that are concerning or that may cause some issues with this year's election?
Dan Severson:Yeah and I think, one of them was brought to me attention just a couple of nights ago, I was up in Sleepy Eye and a couple I had not met before came up to me and said, "You know, we have a daughter who was 18 years old when she last voted in Minnesota, that was basically eight years ago. She got, she moved down to Kansas. We got a absentee ballot to our house. She hadn't voted in these eight years and she got, we got a ballot at our house for her to fill out and mail in."
Well, she doesn't live in Minnesota anymore but there's a ballot that just happened to occur on their doorstep and I'm kind of going, how do they know this is her--
Severson: --number one and how come all of a sudden this is has happened? Well, this is the whole "no excuses" early voting and there are lists that are out and the Democratic Party mined that list and basically said, "Hey we think that you should vote," and that fact of the matter is, she doesn't even live in Minnesota anymore.
Now what's the security of that particular ballot?
Severson's statement reveals a sweeping ignorance of Minnesota's absentee voting law, as well as a lack of curiosity about investigating why the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party would start mailing "ballots" to random individuals on voter lists.
No excuses absentee balloting isn't "early voting"
Olson correctly calls the new system "no excuses absentee voting," while Severson substitutes the phrase "early voting." The National Conference of State Legislatures explains the difference here, and The Uptake interviewed DFL Secretary of State candidate Steve Simon at the State Fair discussing how early voting would be different.
As no broad bipartisan consensus on traditional early voting could be reached in the latest bill to change Minnesota's election law, the practice was not included. AP staff writer Brian Bakst noted the most important difference in a June report:
Minnesota's absentee program differs than early-voting systems in many other states because the ballots aren't put into counting machines until the night of the election, and voters have until seven days before then to change their mind with a substitute ballot.
DFL isn't mailing out ballots
Much more revealing about Severson's willingness to embellish hearsay into accusations of voter fraud is the notion that the DFL is mailing out ballots themselves--and to make these claims on a well-known media figure's podcast.
In essence, Severson is accusing "the DFL party" with committing a rather clumsy crime--obtaining an absentee ballot for an unrelated person.
Did the DFL actually mail out ballots?
Reached by phone, DFL Communications Director Ellen Perrault said that the DFL had been mailing applications for absentee ballots, not ballots themselves. Update: in an email, Perrault wrote that "The absentee ballot request forms were mailed to current registered voters." [end update]
It is legal for others to distribute an application for an absentee ballot but the completed application for an absentee ballot itself "may be submitted by that voter or by that voter's parent, spouse, sister, brother, or child over the age of 18 years" and no one else. The process in the 2014 law is outlined here in section 203B.17 on the Revisor's Office's website.
June press coverage of state party's no-excuses absentee voting GOTV
Severson appears to be melding his confusion about an application for an absentee ballot and the actual absentee ballot itself with that Associated Press report in June on how the state parties will be using the new "no-excuses" absentee voting to get their voters to the polls.
Brian Bakst writes in Big absentee ballot changes on tap in Minnesota will alter early vote, campaign approaches:
Minnesota is on the doorstep of its biggest statewide election changes in years by providing more latitude for absentee voting and by giving political parties, campaigns and others the ability to track who has sent ballots in for counting. . . .
For the parties it's a way to bank votes early in a year with hard-fought contests for U.S. Senate, governor and control of the state House.
"Instead of the get-out-the-vote activities that used to occur in the last 72 hours and even the day of an election, we've now got a 45-day extension," said Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey.
Previously, people seeking to vote absentee had to attest that they were ill or disabled, were scheduled to be away from home, were serving elsewhere as an election judge or had a religious observance.
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin said his team is playing up the no-excuse aspect in phone calls and mailings to potential voters. He hopes the eased access will help the party combat a typically steep drop-off in Democratic turnout in midterm elections.
Fraser said the identity of people applying for an absentee ballot isn't public, but data about who has returned one for counting will be. Political parties routinely run aggressive absentee ballot application programs, giving them a sense of voters who might possess one. The list would come at a cost and there could be as much as a 10-day lag in disclosure.
Still, it's a goldmine of data to party leaders and campaigns, allowing them to devote money and energy toward contacting people who need a nudge and lay off those who have already done their civic duty.
"It's a very efficient way of being able to take a universe and being able to really chase them down and make sure that they have voted," Martin said.
The DFL isn't doing anything new or illegal in sending absentee ballot applications to voters, though it may be using updated voter rolls more skillfully than the MNGOP in 2014.
The practice is longstanding (and legal in Minnesota). It only calls attention to itself when done awkwardly. The McCain presidential campaign was criticized in 2008 when it mailed absentee ballot applications with campaign literature, though most of the scorn came from suspicions that incorrect voting place information was an attempt to invalidate those voters' ballots. The McCain campaign cited bad data, rather than ill-intent, as the culprit.
Does Severson understand data base management and such?
The candidate's use of this story--it which he accuses the opposition party of criminial behavior--is all the more troubling because it reveals not only misunderstandings of the laws he would have to implement as Secretary of State, but of the technology that he optimistically offers as a quick fix (that nobody else ever looked into, no less) for all our voting issues.
From the express lane voting, to online voting for military personnel, to his latest "vote anywhere" proposal shared with host Olson on the Daily Agenda, Severson suggests that faith in technology will somehow make our voting more secure than shopping at Target or working for the NSA.
If only he understood the differences in ballot application forms and the ballots themselves (and the laws governing their distribution), Bluestem might tell our feline companion to stop laughing.
Severson faces DFL endorsed candidate Steve Simon and IP endorsed candidate Bob Helland in the general election in November.
Photo: Perhaps if Dan Severson stops talking about the election process, our feline friend will stop laughing.
Bonus question: Since the election is nearing, and military voters must request and mail absentee ballots to time for them to arrive by election Day, we have to ask once again whether Severson has delivered his Military Votes First petition to Secretry of State Ritchie and Minnesota House Elections Committee chair--or if he simply hasn't updated his website. The website petition still says that it will be delivered on September 11.
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