Rep. Phyllis Kahn
Minneapolis officials are demanding an apology from state Rep. Phyllis Kahn over her Election Day comment that "someone at the city should be executed" over long lines of voters at the Seward Square polling place.
"It is beyond inexcusable to talk this way about the hard-working, dedicated public servants who have been on the job nearly non-stop to ensure a fair vote in Minneapaolis," said the letter signed by Mayor R.T. Rybak, City Council President Barbara Johnson and council members Robert Lilligren and Elizabeth Glidden.
"When public workers are under attack, "it is especially outrageous for an elected official to pile on more," they wrote. The city has been under intense criticism for lines at several polling places, for technical errors that delayed vote counting and for delayed release of election results.
Kahn said Thursday that no apology will be forthcoming. She clarified that she wasn't aiming her remarks at election judges, but at supervisors and those who devised boundaries and polling places. She said it made no sense to have residents of Seward Tower East voting at Seward Square when others were voting in their building. And Seward Square was inadequate for the crowd, she aded.
"My language was not strong enough," she said. "None of those people ever looked at what was going on there.”
Council Member Cam Gordon, who did not sign the letter, chairs the Elections Committee and has said there will be a full review of the issues.
Colleague Bill McAuliffe reports that part of what had Kahn and some voters riled was a redistricting move by which voters who lived in Seward Tower East, many of them Somali, were told when they arrived at the polling place in the building’s lobby that they now had to vote at another polling place nine blocks away.
The polling place, which had previously served Ward 6, Precinct 2, including the Seward Tower East residents, was open Tuesday only to voters in Ward 2, Precinct 9. At about 5 p.m. Tuesday, there were no lines and even open voting booths in the Seward Tower polling place (now Ward 2, Precinct 9), while hundreds of voters waited for at least two hours in line at Seward Square Apartments, nine blocks west, who had been voters in Ward 6, Precinct 2.
“It’s a mess, but there is a reason,” said Wayland Noland, head election judge at Seward Tower.
At the overrun Seward Square polling place, Kahn said on Tuesday that judges had been cooperative when she asked them to open a different entrance, allowing more people to wait inside rather than out in the rain. Kahn acknowledged that she held no authority in an election, much less in a precinct she doesn’t live in. But she went to the polling place to see if there was anything she could do. On Election Night she called it “doing the right thing.”
“I knew we could not have people standing in the rain,” she said.
Nowland said many of the Seward Tower residents who showed up to vote in the lobby were surprised it wasn’t their polling place anymore. Someone, it wasn’t clear who, provided rides to voters from there to Seward Square.
Both Noland and Kahn said they believed the precinct change was part of an effort by the city’s charter commission, which oversaw redistricting, to concentrate Somali voters. Nowland described it as gerrymandering, an election strategy that has been both disparaged and praised through history for packing districts with presumably like-minded voters.
Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl acknowledged that moving the voters, most of them Somali, from one precinct to another, was part of the charter commission’s effort to establish “minority opportunity” precincts. He said the Seward Tower voters were only a small fraction of the voters registered to vote at Seward Square, and that the long lines were also a result of a Presidential election and two controversial constitutional amendment questions.