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Voter fraud story not quite over

by Eric Ferguson on July 14, 2014 · 1 comment

Brian Rice, we’re waiting. Not for evidence. We waited in vain for that. We’re waiting now for your apology.
The news Thursday was bad for Rice. Hennepin County investigated his claim of a “coordinated effort” to have people vote illegally using the address of a business that rents mailboxes. They dismissed this allegation not merely for insufficient evidence, and not even for no evidence. They actually disproved the charge. Ouch.
Wasn’t hard to disprove. From the Minnpost link, “In fact, all but 16 of the people who registered there had done so before January of this year.”
That was Thursday. It’s now Monday. Well? Any apology coming? Rice surely knew he was dragging the reputations of legal voters through the metaphorical mud. He took his claim to an irresponsible media outlet to play up the story, knowing how voter fraud claims incite the partisans of the right, knowing he was throwing charges at an immigrant community that is detested in some quarters. How detested? Let’s put it this way: the Star Tribune stopped enabling comments on articles on certain subjects because of the hate speech those subjects attract, and one of those subjects was Somalis. Articles on Somalis bring out the racists, nativists, and islamophobes. Rice must have been aware this was the atmosphere into which he was throwing his scurrilous charges.
It didn’t have to happen this way. Had Rice restrained himself to claiming it appeared some people voted from an address that wasn’t a residence, he would have been fine. There was evidence for that. He could have said that without claiming or implying organized fraud or individual fraud. That would have saved him looking churlish in light of this paragraph:

A large number of the improper registrations were the result of the change-of-address process, which requires Hennepin County officials to update registration information when voters move. Though many of the 141 voters involved in the complaint maintain a mailbox at the Cedar Avenue center — it’s an easy way for people who move often to keep a permanent mailing address — those voters didn’t expect that their registration information would also change to the mailing center’s address.

In other words, many of the 141 did things right, registering with their current address, and adding the permanent address as the place where mail should be sent, and something got mixed up on the clerical end. Even the rest, where the voters made a mistake, were just voters making a mistake. Not one instance of fraud.
Republicans of course took the bait, jumping up and down in excitement because now the voter fraud accusation was being made by a DFLer. Vindication! Oops. Like every other claim of voter fraud, this one fell apart upon examination. So, Republicans, isn’t it time to admit you were wrong on this one? That you believed a charge that proved false? So far, nothing. A word of advice Republicans: if the information is coming from a Democrat, and you don’t want to get played like this again, then no matter how much you want to believe it, check it out first. You see how I saw right through it. You can do the same.

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The Star Tribune headline writer got the story seriously wrong

The Star Tribune headline writer got the story seriously wrong

To be fair to the Star Tribune, they didn’t screw up nearly as much as KSTP. In fact, the egregious mistake was in the headline, “140 voters used single mailbox”. This wasn’t asserted in the article. However, reporters don’t write the headlines, and the Star Tribune did at some point replace that headline on the web version. They’re unfortunately stuck with it in the print edition. It’s a screw up because even Brian Rice and KSTP never asserted 140 people registered using one mailbox. They rented mailboxes from the same mailbox rental business. Yes, quite a bit different.
The Star Tribune writers talked to some people who registered using their mailbox instead of a residence — take note KSTP, because that’s what real reporters do — and got statements from more people than just the one guy making the accusation. The Star Tribune debunked — albeit inadvertently it appears since they didn’t point out the contradiction — the crux of the KSTP story, that there was a “coordinated effort” to commit voter fraud. “State records show that 419 Cedar Avenue S. has been used by some of the voters as far back as 2008.” Maybe Brian Rice believes people started registering back in 2008 to help Mohamud Noor run for state representative in 2014?
That said, some things were left out. And there was some silliness.


KSTP TV spreads voter fraud myth

by Eric Ferguson on June 28, 2014 · 9 comments

KSTP TV decided to shock its viewers with the news that 140 Somali voters registered to vote at the same address. OMG, massive organized voter fraud, finally proven! Just like all those other times it was finally proven except, oops, the allegation proved groundless. This are pretty easy to debunk too, at least for anyone who thinks accusations should be accompanied by evidence. KSTP is owned by a major GOP donor, Stanley Hubbard, which often leads to suspicion about its reporting. I’ve usually not seen anything in their reporting that looks like a Fox News wannabe. This looks to me less like partisan bias and more like reporting that is sloppy and sensationalist. Of course, for the people who worked on this story, being sloppy and sensationalist should be pretty embarrassing. I do get how these stories slip through, given the general shoddiness of local TV news that has been the norm pretty much since its invention.

I also get now why so many people in Minneapolis spit when they say Brian Rice’s name.

To the specifics of the allegations:


According to voter registration records from the Secretary of State’s office and the DFL Voter Activation Network more than 140 people used 419 Cedar Avenue South in Minneapolis as their home address, when they registered to vote.
The address is for what’s called Cedar Mailbox Center. The building manager and mail center’s employees weren’t comfortable speaking on camera, but they said they were surprised by the allegations.
They say nobody put the wrong address on purpose. For 13 years, many Somali-Americans from all across the state have been getting their mail there. They say nobody lives there.

Brian Rice is representing Phyllis Kahn, and making the charges against Mohamud Noor, the candidates in the DFL primary in HD60B.
The first problem with the allegation is probably obvious to anyone who has ever rented a mailbox. People who move frequently, which describes many low income people, often rent mailboxes so they don’t have to worry about their mail following them as they move. So having a rented mailbox isn’t a sign of intending to commit the organized fraud Rice is claiming in front of KSTP’s credulous reporters when he said, “I think there is a coordinated effort to use this address to bring voters into the DFL primary election on August 12, that’s what I think is going on.” Notice he said “coordinated effort”. That’s a lot different than some voters making a mistake. What is the evidence of a “coordinated effort”, and not merely just a bunch of people renting mailboxes there? KSTP reported the owner told them they’ve been renting out mailboxes for 13 years: so did the 140 people registered to vote using that address just register, or were they using those mailboxes prior to the campaign? It would seem a simple matter for either Rice or KSTP to check this out, but they either didn’t, or they’re not sharing the result.
It is in fact the law that voters must register where they actually reside, even if their permanent address is different. Rookie voters, and we are talking about many inexperienced voters in the Somali community, could reasonably assume they’re supposed to use their permanent address, not just whatever temporary housing they’re using now. Registration forms don’t say this. The forms merely offer space for a mailbox if you can’t receive mail at your address, which might imply to a new voter that they should just use their permanent address only. “Voter fraud” requires intent, not merely mistakes. That’s also the law, not my opinion, yet Rice is making, and KSTP TV is airing, a specific charge, with no evidence. Anyone think the voter fraud crazies we call the Republican Party will regard the lack of evidence, or will this be ginned up into the latest national voter fraud scandal, for which most people will never hear the debunking?
Yet Rice can still claim to be a lawyer and KSTP TV can still claim to be journalists. Legally I mean, not in the sense of deserving professional respect.
For full disclosure, I haven’t backed a candidate. I’m still not ready to do that because I have reservations about both.
Here is the KSTP TV report.


President Obama in Minneapolis Thursday and Friday

by Eric Ferguson on June 25, 2014 · 4 comments

President Obama will be making a couple public appearances in Minneapolis this week. On Thursday at 2:10 there’s town hall forum at Minnehaha Park, right near me but I have to work, figures. It’s invitation only and I don’t know how invitees were picked. I’m not one is all I know. Security will be presidentially tight like is normal at presidential events, but living close by, I know how to sneak in along the river and through the woods. I’m kidding!! I’ve been through the security to attend presidential events, and they lose some glamor. If I can’t sit down at some point and get some water, I don’t think I want to do that again. And no, being the local DFL chair doesn’t get me anything in terms of notice or entry or anything.


Friday at 10:30 the president is giving a speech on the economy, highlighting the things Minnesota has done right. This will be at the Lake Harriet bandshell. This event is open to anyone, but tickets are required. Distribution started at noon today on a first come first serve basis, so no promises you can still get a ticket. If you’re traveling in the vicinity of Minnehaha Park tomorrow or Lake Harriet Friday, be aware roads and trails might be closed.

Here’s the president responding to a letter from a woman in Minnesota, who apparently will get to talk to him while he’s here.


Minneapolis’ population recently reached 400,000 for the first time since the mid-1970′s. That’s not a surprise if you’re a Minneapolis resident, because it’s hard to miss the building boom going on in some parts of the city, like downtown and along the Hiawatha light rail line. The city government’s goal is to increase the population to 500,000, which it reached for a few years at its peak around 1950. Minneapolis has a infrastructure designed to handle a larger population, but costs are being spread among fewer people. So a larger population spreads the costs out more. Being a political person, I can’t help doing some math and noticing that getting to half a million might mean another one and a half State Senate districts, or three State house districts, either measure meaning more representation in the legislature. Obviously that depends on how long it takes to reach that figure, and what growth happens in the state overall, but in general, more people means more political clout.


Unsurprisingly, our twin St. Paul has followed the same trend of decades of population decline followed by stabilization and recent gains. It tends to be a few years behind Minneapolis at any given point, but essentially it’s having the same trend, and appears set for a building boom along the Central Corridor light rail line.


There are some problems though with raising the population further. The Star Tribune article linked above mentions that average household size has shrunk, and Minneapolis actually has more households than in 1970, when it had 30,000 more people.


There’s a physical impediment to getting back to 1950 levels, which generally goes unremarked. That over-500,000 peak was reached before construction of the freeways. The trenches weren’t there. They were dug through the parts of the city unlucky enough to get picked as routes for 35W and 94. That the freeways reduced urban populations by facilitating white flight, by making it possible to work downtown and live in the metro fringes, is pretty well known, but less considered is the direct removal of housing. Check out this photo of a bit of 35W, and the residential blocks alongside:

Satellite photo of 35W in Minneapolis indicates how much space was lost to freeway construction.

Satellite photo of 35W in Minneapolis indicates how much space was lost to freeway construction.

Figure that 35W and 94 took out a space the width city block through the entirety of their routes, and that’s a lot of lost space. That’s why I don’t believe Minneapolis can get back to a pre-freeway population without replacing the space lost to the freeways.


Of course, taking out the freeways has all sorts of problems, so that won’t happen. But it doesn’t need to. There’s an alternative, one that sounded cockamamie when I first saw it suggested, but then quickly made some sense. Put a roof on the freeways.



This is what democracy (parades) look like

by Eric Ferguson on May 6, 2014 · 1 comment

“This is what democracy looks like” has become a classic chant, but I’m not much of a chanter. Maybe that’s why I pull out the camera. “Sorry, can’t chant, I’m recording!” My motives being whatever they are, I marched with a big bunch of DFLers in the May Day Parade in Minneapolis on Sunday and recorded bits of it. The campaigns of Keith Ellison, Mark Dayton, Al Franken, and Betsy Hodges were there, and several other candidates and elected officials will appear below. If you want to participate in grassroots politics, but you’re not comfortable knocking on strangers’ doors or making cold calls to people who may not want to talk to you, join some candidate you support at a parade. Even just being there, you help your candidate tell parade watchers that you’re asking for their vote and not taking it for granted, which hopefully was a message conveyed Sunday.

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Keith Ellison and the broken edge of the bottle

by Eric Ferguson on May 4, 2014 · 2 comments

“You see the red? That’s the Republicans. They’re lower than us by a lot. But guess what. That line, it waves up and down, but it’s pretty steady. Don’t you think so? Look at our line. It looks like the broken edge of a bottle.”
US Rep. Keith Ellison was endorsed for reelection at yesterday’s CD5 DFL convention. The video is his endorsement and speech, starting with a nomination by Sen. Al Franken. He’s unimpressed with his own win and thinks no one else should be impressed either, not in such a safely blue district. When he won his first election in 2006, the fifth district had a lack of turnout but plenty of excuses why it as last in among Minnesota’s congressional districts in turnout. He didn’t accept those excuses, and in 2012 it topped the state. It comes down to one of the best ground games in the nation. You can hear him making the point to the delegates that if you aren’t helping with the ground game, you’re really not helping. For reasons I can’t fathom, many of his Democratic colleagues are unwilling to engage in a ground game and improve turnout beyond what’s necessary to eke out their own reelections. Do they refuse to believe the ground game matters? Do they not care about the other Democrats on the ballot? Maybe there’s something about the state’s political culture that assumes a serious ground game. Don’t really know. We do know that we can’t win the House or state legislature by improving turnout in safe districts, but we sure can win statewide elections, and stop the noxious Republicans who have caused all sorts of damage from the governor’s office, as state attorneys general or secretaries of state.
I have to think the Republicans know what a difference turnout in this district has made, given that photo ID advocates (“photo ID” please, stop saying “voter ID”, not the same thing) tried to impose it in just Minneapolis. Or maybe they were just acting from the Republican principle that urban votes, by definition, shouldn’t count. “But we won most of the counties!” “Look how red the map is!” “Excluding the cities Minneapolis and St. Paul, I — as the Republican candidate — actually won the state by approximately 6 percentage points. That last quote is real; from Tom Emmer, defeated 2010 gubernatorial candidate, who is now running for Congress — in a non-urban district now represented by Michele Bachmann.
This video looks like it was shot with a phone camera at the back of the hall, and, well, there’s a good reason for that. Did my best to clean it up, and the sound is tolerable. Maybe treat it like radio. The other videos are State Attorney General Lori Swanson, running for reelection, and State Rep. Deb Hilstrom, seeking party endorsement for the open seat for Secretary of State. A representative from her opponent, State Rep. Steve Simon, spoke before I got there.




Activists at Minneapolis inauguration ceremony

by Dan Burns on January 7, 2014 · 1 comment

Aerial_photo_of_downtown_MinneapolisI don’t see that there’s any doubt that most Minneapolis progressives see the city election as a big victory. And they expect results, not any kind of capitulation to the suits in the skyscrapers. The latter do of course make plenty of pious noise about “closing the gap,” but never at the possible cost of even a pennyworth of their government-provided big leg up.

As the crowd dispersed after the ceremony and her address, about 50 activists seized the steps and began singing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” beside a banner reading “Equity now/ One Mpls vs. the 1%” with references to a $15 minimum wage and affordable housing.
(Mayor Betsy) Hodges briefly joined them on the steps and sang before returning to greet more well-wishers.
“I think this is a respectful celebration of the kinds of values that we’ve been talking about all year,” she said. “This isn’t a disturbance as much as it is a celebration, and good for them.”
Beneath the clamor was a general sense of unity about incoming city leaders’ priorities for closing disparities in jobs and education among whites and blacks.
(Star Tribune)

Equally interesting, for a political wonk like me anyway, is the latter part of the article, which details the new Council structure, committee chairs and so forth. For example:

Most of the council’s work is done in committees, where members take testimony and make crucial decisions on development projects, ordinances and contracts. Committee decisions are rarely overturned by the full council.
Blong Yang, who represents the North Side, will chair the public safety committee. Lisa Bender, who has a background in urban planning, will chair zoning and planning.
Lisa Goodman won more power under the new structure. Goodman’s community development committee, which oversees the use of housing funds and steers economic development initiatives, now includes regulatory services.

Yang and Bender are both newly elected members.

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Precinct caucuses are February 4th

by Eric Ferguson on December 23, 2013 · 1 comment

That headline is true for all parties since the state sets the date, a date that’s too early if I may editorialize, and this is a blog, so … why can’t caucuses go back to March? OK, editorializing done. What follows might not apply to parties other than the DFL. Like I mention when I think there might be need for disclosure that my blogging is separate from being a local party chair, I’m a local party chair. Specifically Senate District 63. Which mean planning the caucuses and SD63 convention is my problem, the necessary but less fun part of the job.


The caucuses on Feb. 4th convene at 7PM. Sign-in begins at 6:30. The Secretary of State’s office will have precinct caucus finder eventually, though they don’t at this writing, so here’s a link to the SOS web site section on elections. The state DFL also has a district finder which will tell you your legislative district, congressional district, etc.


If you happen to live in my senate district, and presumably that’s true of one in 67 of you (to resolve the quizzical looks, Minnesota has 67 state senate districts), you can get caucus location information now on the SD63 web site.


The state DFL has made a video showing what happens at a precinct caucus. The actors are grassroots DFLers who did a terrific job. If you think I’m saying that because I know a bunch of them and they might read this, um, OK, maybe partly I suppose. But really, this explains the process well:


The video used the phrase “organizing unit”, which I think can use some more explanation, albeit at the risk of going into more detail than strictly necessary, but here goes.

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New Council President in Minneapolis?

by Dan Burns on December 10, 2013 · 1 comment

Aerial_photo_of_downtown_MinneapolisIt could happen.

The political change that swept over Minneapolis City Hall in this year’s election could sweep a new City Council president into office.
Council Member Elizabeth Glidden is challenging Barbara Johnson for the council presidency, a position Johnson has held for the last eight years.
Glidden’s bid is being fueled by a group of newly elected council members. If she succeeds, it could pull the state’s most liberal city council even further to the left.

Looking at the numbers, it should come down to a couple of swing votes. Though some last-minute shifts, based on perceptions of the likely outcome, could change that. Fun stuff!

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