Voter fraud debate escalates loudly

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA and JAMES WALSH , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: October 28, 2010 - 10:11 PM

As a federal suit was filed and complaints lodged with the state, both sides blasted each other at Capitol events.

With five days remaining before Election Day in Minnesota, a lawsuit, complaints and finger-pointing erupted over whether enough was being done to prevent voter fraud.

Minnesota Majority announced Thursday that it was filing a federal lawsuit to allow conservative voters to wear Tea Party T-shirts and buttons with the words "Please I.D. Me" into polling places.

Spokesman Jeff Davis said the group was distributing 5,000 buttons -- which feature a picture of a watchful eye -- and said the move was no different than from voters who wore union buttons into the voting booth. The lawsuit names Hennepin County and Ramsey County election officials and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie as defendants.

But the group's State Capitol news conference devolved into finger-pointing and heckling when U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., held an impromptu media briefing of his own immediately afterward to accuse the group voter intimidation.

"I hope the cameras catch you screaming and yelling, because I feel intimidated right now," said Ellison, who was heckled by several of the lawsuit's plaintiffs and their supporters as he tried to speak to reporters.

"What do you find intimidating about a program that is nearly identical to Neighborhood Watch?" asked Davis, who walked up to Ellison as he stood at a lectern.

Common Cause Minnesota joined the fray on Thursday by filing a complaint with the state's administrative hearing officer against Minnesota Majority and two other organizations. The complaint charged that the buttons violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act, which prohibits "political badges, political buttons or other political insignia" from being worn at polling places.

Common Cause Minnesota was supported by Take Action Minnesota, whose executive director, Dan McGrath, called the attempt to wear buttons and Tea Party T-shirts "a punch in the face to U.S. democracy."

In the lawsuit, Randy Liebo, an Eden Prairie resident and the co-founder of North Star Tea Party Patriots, said he planned to wear a Tea Party T-shirt when he went to vote. "We are not a political party," he said. "We are strictly an informational and educational organization."

The U.S. Department of Justice, meanwhile, announced that it would have officials on hand Tuesday to receive complaints of election fraud and possible voting rights abuses. The department's goal is to increase the Justice Department's ability to deter election fraud and discrimination at the polls and to prosecute voting offenses.

jwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-7428 mkaszuba@startribune.com • 651-222-1673

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