Legal challenges are mounting in a contentious race for the Legislature that has divided Minneapolis’ Somali community.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn’s campaign filed a petition with the state Supreme Court on Monday alleging that a city election judge was biased toward Kahn’s opponent, Mohamud Noor. The filing comes just days ahead of a hearing on the eligibility of hundreds of voters who are registered to a Cedar-Riverside mailbox center.
Kahn was denied the DFL endorsement this spring partly because of Noor’s ability to mobilize Somali delegates. The race is likely to be decided by an August primary that has drawn hundreds of absentee voters.
The filing alleges that election judge Fadumo Yusuf asked voters at City Hall whether they were voting for “our Somali brother” or “the old Jewish lady,” apparent references to Noor and Kahn. Election judges must be neutral under state law.
Omar Jamal, a prominent Somali activist who said he was representing Yusuf, described Yusuf as completely neutral. “And this is purely harassment and intimidation from Phyllis Kahn’s office,” Jamal said.
Kahn’s campaign initially asked the city to review the matter, but escalated it to the Supreme Court after finding that Yusuf continued to work as an election judge. The petition asks the court to remove Yusuf as a judge and questions whether the city’s clerk, Casey Carl, has appropriately supervised the city’s judges.
Mohamed Jama, who has been gathering Kahn supporters to cast absentee votes, said in an accompanying affidavit that Yusuf was also communicating with Ilhan Omar, a Noor supporter who works as an aide to Council Member Andrew Johnson.
“I saw Omar shouting instructions to Ms. Yusuf while Yusuf was assisting people in voting,” Jama wrote in the affidavit.
Omar denied this allegation in an interview Monday, adding that there is no basis to the rest of the claims in the petition.
He added: “I believe Yusuf … was trying to improperly influence people to vote for Mohamud Noor.”
Another man who does not speak Somali, Michael Molzahn, described an incident in which an election judge wearing a red scarf — matching other descriptions of Yusuf — began arguing with Jama while he was interpreting for an elderly man.
Carl asked Jama to leave the balloting area. Omar and the election judge then began speaking with the man, until he called for Jama to return.
“The presence of Omar was most unusual,” Molzahn wrote. “It did not appear that she was requested to assist this voter, yet she was allowed to approach him twice.”
Omar said she never spoke to the man and had only intervened to ask Carl that a neutral judge — such as Yusuf or another woman — act as the translator. She said it is “laughable” that Yusuf favors either side in the DFL primary, because she is very politically conservative. (Yusuf has previously run for office as a Republican.)
“My only aim in taking the day off and making sure that I was there was to ensure … that everything was legally done,” said Omar, who was not named as a party in the petition.
Kahn’s attorney, Brian Rice, said he expects the court to make a decision on the petition by the end of the week.
Jama said that Carl improperly asked him to leave after he complained about the judge. “I have never seen this kind of politics — dirty politics,” he said of the race in general. “What does that say about the city’s process? … It’s the voter’s choice.”
He added, “Our voters have to look around their door to get out. People are scared for their lives. People are being threatened.”
The complaint follows accusations of two Kahn supporters attacking a political opponent on Saturday at the Riverside Plaza apartments. Minneapolis police cited Halima Elmi and Deqa Adan for fifth-degree assault of Marian Hersi, who is campaigning for Noor. Adan’s older brother is the ward’s council member, Abdi Warsame, who also supports Kahn.
Hersi declined to speak about the incident Monday, saying that she would wait until the police investigation was over and that she was busy knocking on doors for Noor.
Warsame said Adan was coming home from work and “had nothing to do with this.” He added that the officers — who, like all the participants, were Somali-American — did not question his sister, but took Hersi’s word.
Kevin Short, an attorney for Elmi and Adan, said that they had been falsely accused and that he would ask the city to dismiss the misdemeanor charges.
“In the Somali community, if you are supporting Phyllis Kahn as opposed to the other candidate, you are in a minority. … They have been harassed to no end as a result,” he said.
Staff writer Randy Furst contributed to this report.