Testimony begins in absentee ballot fraud trial

Mail bins sit on a rack.
Received absentee ballots sit in mail bins before being scanned for counting on election night at the Ramsey County Absentee Ballot Count Center in St. Paul, Minn. on Wednesday, Oct. 21.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2020

Testimony got underway Monday in the trial of a man charged with lying to a federal grand jury about absentee ballot fraud. Muse Mohamud Mohamed is charged with two counts of making false statements to a grand jury during an investigation that followed the August 2020 primary for a Minnesota Senate seat.

In filings, prosecutors allege that Muse Mohamed sent three absentee ballots to the Minneapolis elections office on behalf of three voters using a process called “agent delivery.”

Under Minnesota law, if a voter becomes suddenly incapactiated, can’t vote in person, and it’s too late to vote by mail, the voter is allowed to designate someone to deliver their absentee ballot to a local election office. Under the law, the agent must have a pre-existing relationship with the voter, can’t be a candidate in the election, and may only deliver up to three ballots.

Prosecutors say the three voters for whom Mohamed allegedly delivered ballots did not know him and did not ask him to deliver their ballots.

Mustfa Hassan, 34, testified that he volunteered for Omar Fateh’s state senate campaign for a day after Mohamed asked for his help. Fateh beat Sen. Jeff Haden in the primary by nearly 10 percentage points, and went on to win the general election in the heavily-DFL south Minneapolis district.

Hassan told jurors that he’d assumed he would be doorknocking for Fateh, but instead, Hassan was asked to deliver three envelopes from Fateh’s campaign headquarters to the Minneapolis elections office on Hennepin Ave.

In court, prosecutors displayed an absentee ballot document that purported to show Hassan’s signature, but Hassan said he did not sign the form and the address differed slightly from the address in Eagan where he lived at the time. Hassan testified that he gave his ID to staff at the elections office, and they took the envelopes from him.

Nasro Mohamed Jama, 46, whose name and address were on an absentee ballot application allegedly delivered to the elections office, testified that she always votes in person, does not know Muse Mohamed, and never asked anyone to hand deliver her ballot.

In testimony earlier Monday, Minneapolis elections administrator Jon Martin said that staff rejected the absentee ballot purported to be from Jama because the elections database showed that she had already cast her ballot in person.

Even though former President Donald Trump and many of his Republican allies have alleged widespread voter fraud, particularly regarding absentee ballots, the crime remains extremely rare, and election officials across the country have procedures in place aimed at catching double voting and voter impersonation. Federal prosecutors have not said if the investigation that led them to charge Mohamed has uncovered any other alleged instances of fraud.

Abdiriman Muse, 22, also testified that he does not know Mohamed. Muse told jurors that he never knew that someone had submitted an absentee ballot request form in his name until an FBI agent contacted him. Muse said that he did not vote in the 2020 primary, and never asked anyone to pick up an absentee ballot for him.

When a prosecutor displayed the absentee ballot application on the courtroom’s computer monitors, Muse said the signature on the form was not his. He also noted that his first name was spelled incorrectly, the name of his street was also misspelled and the apartment number was wrong.

Testimony in the trial is expected to continue Tuesday. 

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