Distrust of election integrity unites GOP

A pile of red "I Voted" stickers.
A pile of red "I Voted" stickers. As Minnesota Republicans gather in Rochester for their two-day state convention, candidates and delegates share a belief that stricter voting security measures are needed, even though there's no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News 2020

The half dozen candidates seeking the Republican endorsement for governor this weekend in Rochester agree on one thing: Minnesota’s standards for voting are too lax. If they are in office next year they will tighten them up. 

One of the candidates–former state Sen. Scott Jensen–even suggested recently that DFL Secretary of State Steve Simon should be jailed for his handling of the 2020 election.

The suspicion that the last election wasn’t fair is an echo of former President Donald Trump’s ongoing contention that he was robbed by Democrat Joe Biden, an assertion Trump has been unable to prove in court. 

The Republicans competing for the party's endorsement to run against Simon don't seem to be going as far as Jensen, but they are calling for big changes in the way elections are run. 

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In a recent message to Republican activists, Secretary of State candidate Kelly Jahner Byrne said she would work to require that Minnesota voters show photo identification before casting ballots. She also has other proposals she says would make elections more secure.

“We have to get our voter ID addressed,” she said in a video. “We need to have our provisional ballots, and we can only have U.S. citizens voting and deciding American elections. Being married to an immigrant, I understand that firsthand, only eligible U.S. citizens voting in our elections."

That sounds bad, but there's no evidence that voting by non-citizens, which is illegal, is a major problem in the United States. Byrne did not agree to an interview.

The other Republican candidate for secretary of state, Kim Crockett, has also suggested elections are flawed and that big changes are needed.

“We need to field a serious slate of Republican candidates who can win and then keep their promises once they're in office. And I will help do that by helping pass voter ID and other measures to bring election integrity to Minnesota,” Crockett said in a video message to party members earlier this year.

While there have been isolated cases of voter fraud, those claiming widespread problems cannot back up their allegations with evidence. Crockett did not respond to numerous requests for an interview.

The relentless campaigning by Republicans on the concern riles Democrat Simon, who’s been Minnesota’s secretary of state for eight years and is seeking a third term this year.

“At some point, we have to point out the lie that the 2020 election was anything other than fundamentally fair, accurate, honest and secure,” Simon said in an interview.

Minnesota DFL convention
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon at the DFL state convention.
Jerry Olson for MPR News 2018

During Simon's two terms access to voting has expanded, most notably to include no-excuse absentee ballots. And voting by mail is becoming increasingly popular in Minnesota. Simon, who’s worked to make it easier to vote, said requiring voters to show ID is unnecessary and would make voting more difficult.

As for the rhetoric about the last presidential election being rigged, Simon points out that  intense scrutiny of the process concluded the claims are without merit.

“That's what the former Attorney General William Barr said, from the Trump administration. That's what the current FBI director appointed by former President Trump has said over and over again in sworn testimony, and that's what over 60 federal and state court judges have said when presented with any allegations of wrongdoing or misconduct,” Simon said.

While messages about election integrity will be popular among Republican delegates at their state convention, it's unclear whether claims of election fraud will resonate more widely with voters in November's general election.

So why are so many Republicans still so keen on promoting the falsehood that U.S. elections are rigged against them?

“Well, first of all, nothing gets people to vote more effectively than anger and fear,” said Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Iowa. “And a particular motivator of anger and fear is the belief that in some way, you got cheated last time around.”

Goldford said the rise of social media and cable TV news channels have left Trump with a powerful megaphone that, for many of his supporters, legitimizes his false claims.

“And what they do is repeat constantly a particular line or particular refrain,” Goldford said. “And if people increasingly fail to seek out alternative points of view, if all you hear is this one particular point of view, that in one way reinforces your own hopes and your own fears and your own anger, then you will pretty much believe what is consistent with your beliefs, and you will disbelieve what's not consistent with your beliefs. This is very much a threat to our democracy.”