All 141 voters registered at a mailbox center at 419 Cedar Av. in Minneapolis will have their registrations canceled after an investigation by the Hennepin County attorney’s office determined that the address was not a valid residence.
But county officials say individuals registered at the address can still vote in the highly competitive Phyllis Kahn vs. Mohamud Noor state House race if they re-register in the precinct in which they live.
None of the 141 individuals submitted an absentee ballot for the Kahn-Noor race, county officials said. Two new registrants tried to submit absentee ballots using the Cedar address for this election cycle and those ballots were rejected, but the individuals are still eligible to vote, investigators said.
The investigation came after Brian Rice, an attorney for Kahn’s campaign, filed a petition asking the county to investigate the 141 registrations at the Cedar Mailbox Center and alleged “massive voter fraud.”
Assistant County Attorney Dan Rogan said the investigation found no evidence of any organized or coordinated attempt to have individuals register using the mailbox address. Only 16 of the 141 registrations happened in 2014. Individuals have been registering using it since 2008.
“This has been happening for a while. It was really a result of people using this address and not knowing that they were supposed to put [down] their residential address,” Rogan said.
Omar Jamal, a Somali-American community activist, said Rice and Kahn owe the Somali-American community and Noor an apology, adding that the petition has instilled fear in the community. He said he and others now have to organize community outreach efforts to assure citizens that they can go out and vote.
Rice said that if the question of potential fraud had not been raised now, it would have led to a lengthier process down the line.
Change of addresses
A hearing was scheduled for Thursday to determine the eligibility of the 141 registered voters. The county auditor sent notices to those voters to appear, and 19 showed up.
Officials repeatedly told those in attendance that the hearing was not a criminal procedure. After Rogan presented the county’s findings, only those who wanted to argue that they actually did reside at 419 Cedar were asked to raise their hand to testify.
No one did.
Of the 141 voters, 49 of them were incorrectly registered at the mailbox center because they submitted a change of address, the county found.
When a change of address occurs, the county receives that information from the secretary of state and the post office. The county then sends a notice to verify that the address is a residence. If the information is not corrected within 21 days, the county assumes the information was valid.
The county can sometimes catch mailbox addresses because they have a P.O. box designation. But the 419 Cedar address did not, and sometimes had an apartment number as well.
Roqia Hassan, the owner of the Cedar Mailbox Center, said she told her customers that they could not use that address for their voter registration.
The county found 60 percent of those who registered did so through normal registration methods, such as a registration drive, on Election Day or a mail registration.
“Even for someone whose first language is English, there can be confusion around residence,” said elections manager Ginny Gelms. “We get a lot of questions from students or snowbirds.”
Rice said the secretary of state and other officials should look for better ways to ensure that people cannot register when the address is not a residence.
“Now that people understand the rules, hopefully the election can be about the candidates and the issues, rather than the process,” Rice said.
After the hearing, Ilham Omar accused Rice and Kahn of deliberately making false accusations.
“We came here for better chances. We follow the law. We take an oath to follow the law,” she said. “It is not OK … to accuse a whole community of something that he knew was not true.”