Phyllis Kahn’s campaign sought investigation of Minneapolis mail center registrations.
The Hennepin County attorney’s office is investigating whether a private mailbox center in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood has been improperly used as an address for more than 140 voters.
State records show that 419 Cedar Avenue S. has been used by some of the voters as far back as 2008.
No one lives at the address, which is a Somali-dominated commercial building housing several small businesses and a popular mail center. Several dozen apartments upstairs use a different building number. Records also show that more than 90 of the registrants at that address have voted in previous elections, although it’s unclear how many voted while registered at 419 Cedar.
The investigation reignites a long-running debate about voter fraud in Minnesota and is the latest flash point in the highly competitive race between Capitol stalwart Rep. Phyllis Kahn and Mohamud Noor, who would become the first Somali-American elected to the Legislature if elected. Kahn was denied the DFL endorsement in April due in part to Noor’s ability to turn out Somali supporters. An August primary will decide the fate of the race.
After discovering the number of registrants at 419 Cedar, Brian Rice, an attorney for Kahn’s campaign, filed a petition asking the county to investigate.
“Every person needs to know they can only vote where they live,” Rice said in an e-mail. “Any person registered at 419 Cedar cannot be allowed to vote from that address.”
Absentee voting began last Friday for the primary. Hundreds of people have turned in absentee ballots in the race. City clerk Casey Carl could not say whether anyone has voted from this address, however.
The mail center is commonly used by Somali immigrants who need a permanent address to receive important mail, particularly if they move frequently.
Reached by the Star Tribune, three of the registrants said they were truck drivers. One said he slept in his truck, while another lives in Eagan but is usually on the road. The man who lives in his truck, Hassan Ahmed, said he registered to vote in conjunction with his citizenship ceremony several years ago.
Roqia Hassan, the owner of the mailbox center, said Monday she was surprised when she learned of the registrations. People who apply for one of the hundreds of mailboxes are required to fill out a form that specifies that they cannot use the address on their state or driver IDs. Two customers at the business on Monday showed that their IDs do, in fact, have different home addresses.
“Always I follow the rules,” Hassan said of flagging suspicious packages and cooperating with various law enforcement inquiries over the 13 years she has run the business. “That’s why I’m shocked.”
One new customer came to the center Sunday after being contacted by a reporter, wondering who had registered this address in his name, Hassan said. Records indicate that the registration was changed recently. “Who made registration for him?” Hassan said, adding that the man was perplexed.
Marie Kay, the site manager for the building, said that about once a year a sheriff’s deputy will come by looking for someone whose address is at 419 Cedar.
“They’ll be looking for someone in apartment G138,” Kay said. “And that always signifies to me that it’s someone that has a mailbox there.”
The petition is being investigated by the Hennepin County attorney’s office, with a hearing scheduled for July 10. County election manager Ginny Gelms said the county removes addresses from precinct books after receiving a tip or spotting issues in city and county property databases.
“So if someone were to walk into the polling place on Election Day and say, ‘This is my address,’ the election judges would know from looking at the precinct finder that that’s not a valid address in the precinct,” she said.
No such flag now exists on 419 Cedar, however, pending the findings of the investigation. Complaints such as Rice’s trigger an automatic investigation mandated by state statute, which determines whether voters at the address are eligible. But in the interim Gelms has advised the absentee ballot board, which makes determinations whether to accept or reject ballots, to refrain from reviewing any ballots from this address until the investigation is complete.
State rules state that voters must state their residential address, rather than a mailing address, when registering to vote.