Election integrity the key issue in Minnesota secretary of state race

Two portraits, a woman on the left, a man on the right
DFL Secretary of State Steve Simon faces a challenge from Kim Crockett, a Republican who has disputed the validity of the 2020 election despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Courtesy Images

On a recent Saturday morning, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon warmed up a crowd of DFL organizers, candidates and volunteers.

Outside a busy campaign office, Simon quipped that “it is a heck of a time to be in the democracy business,” before taking a more stern tone to contrast himself with his Republican opponent Kim Crockett.

“She's an election denier, who says we don't know who won Minnesota in 2020, who says that the election of 2020 was rigged, who says that it was lawless,” Simon said. “That's what we're dealing with here. And that's not who we are as Minnesotans.” 

A man on an outdoor deck talking to people
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon speaks with DFL campaign organizers, candidates and volunteers on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, outside a campaign office in Minneapolis.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

The race to run the office that oversees Minnesota elections and businesses has been cast as an appraisal of the 2020 election. And recent polls show that Simon has about a 7 percentage point edge.

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Simon, a second-term Democrat, said Minnesotans should celebrate top-in-the-nation voter turnout amid the COVID-19 pandemic and aspire to hit that milestone again this fall. 

Meanwhile, Crockett has echoed former President Donald Trump’s allegations that the 2020 election was “rigged” and called for election law rewrites. Trump endorsed Crockett’s campaign on Tuesday, marking his first endorsement in Minnesota this cycle.

“I said that (the election) was lawless, and partisan in nature,” Crockett, a former vice president of the conservative think tank Center of the American Experiment, said at a recent news conference. “I don't think we'll ever know precisely what happened. What I can tell you is that Minnesota laws were not followed that should have been followed.”

Crockett said Simon overstepped in easing restrictions on absentee voting during the pandemic without the Legislature’s approval. 

In 2020, Simon entered into agreements with groups concerned about ballot access, and those changes were approved and upheld by state courts. Election reviews and lawsuits in Minnesota and elsewhere have failed to turn up evidence of widespread fraud that would have affected the outcome of the election.

Simon has defended the move and said it helped Minnesotans cast ballots without having to risk their health. And he touted the state’s top-in-the-nation voter turnout.

“When we cleared obstacles from the path of Minnesota voters, when we made absolutely sure that no voter in Minnesota had to choose between their health and their right to vote, you know what happened? For the third time in a row we were number one in America in voter turnout,” Simon said. “The pressure was on to do it. Again, we're looking for four in a row here.”

Crockett has also alleged that additional voter fraud likely occurred that went undetected. She didn’t provide specific evidence for her claims of fraud but said Minnesotans raised concerns with her about duplicate voter registrations and the potential for cheating as some deceased people remain on the voting rolls.

“Minnesota and our nation are in great turmoil because election laws are not striking a good balance between ballot security and convenience,” Crockett said.

A woman stands at a podium in front of an image of the state Capitol
Republican candidate for secretary of state Kim Crockett holds a news conference at the Minnesota Capitol on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

To remedy that, Crockett has called for stricter laws when it comes to Minnesota elections. She said the state should consider shortening the early voting period, more frequently purge inactive voters from the state’s voting rolls, and require people to show a photo I.D. to cast a ballot.

“I think the solution is to calm down the rhetoric around elections by enacting better election policies,” Crockett said. “Find the cracks in the system, be humble about mistakes and fix it so that when we all sit down at Thanksgiving, we'll look at each other and we'll say, ‘That was fair, I believe in the results of the election,’ rather than being suspicious of them.”

Simon has rejected that approach and said that Crockett and others who deny the results of the 2020 election are the ones stirring mistrust in the system. 

“They would take us backwards,” Simon said. “And our consensus over many decades in Minnesota, it doesn't matter who's in charge — Republican, Democrat — has been that we prize access for the everyday voter if you're eligible to vote, and you can show that the experience should be as trouble free as it can reasonably be.” 

Most Minnesotans trust the integrity of the state’s elections, according to a September MPR News/Star Tribune/KARE 11 poll. Among those polled, 83 percent said they had high or moderate confidence that the 2022 election would be conducted fairly.

Another 15 percent said they had little confidence in the election or none at all.

Political Science Professor Cindy Rugeley said that could benefit Simon, since Crockett’s skeptical messaging might not square with Minnesota voters.

“There's probably a subset of voters that questioned the legitimacy of elections,” said Rugeley, who teaches at the University of Minnesota Duluth, “But I think, overall, Minnesota voters are confident in elections, and they're confident in elections in Minnesota.”