The Minneapolis DFL Party has disqualified hundreds of delegates in a City Council race over concerns that their identities could not be verified.
Meanwhile, a candidate in a different council race is raising similar allegations, drawing scrutiny to the party's endorsing process, which is largely virtual this year.
What's at stake in both races is the official endorsement of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in a city electorate dominated by it. Both controversies have arisen over a stage in that endorsing process: candidates assembling delegates to vote for them at ward conventions that play a crucial role in the hoped-for endorsement.
Fifth Ward delegates tossed
On Monday night, the executive committee of the Minneapolis DFL decided to refuse to accept 358 delegates for Victor Martinez, who is challenging Council Member Jeremiah Ellison in the Fifth Ward.
That's a substantial number; Martinez's total delegate count was either 514 (the number the party said he submitted) or 468 (the number Martinez maintains is accurate after duplicated records are removed). Ellison has amassed 137 delegates. Forty-two additional delegates are undecided.
Martinez's delegate names, address and contact information were entered digitally by Martinez or officials with his campaign, according to both Martinez and the party. That's allowed, but party officials said when that's done they need the original paper form, filled out by the delegate, that includes their signature.
When the party requested that from Martinez, he told them he didn't have the original paper forms because he had thrown them out.
That was no good, party officials concluded.
"To maintain the integrity of the process, we need to hold all campaigns to the same standards and not give special treatment to any candidate or their delegates," Minneapolis party Chair Briana Rose Lee said Tuesday. The committee's action was first reported by the Minnesota Reformer.
Martinez said he didn't understand that the original paper forms were needed.
Why did he throw them out?
"I don't know," he said Tuesday. "I didn't think about it at all. ... It was a dumb mistake — that I'm never going to make again."
Martinez maintained every disallowed delegate is a real person who lives in his ward and signed up to be a delegate for him.
He said the party's action will disenfranchise his supporters, some of whom are immigrants and not eligible to vote — but who are eligible to serve as delegates under the DFL's permissive rules and inclusive philosophy.
He said he plans to appeal Monday's decision, a move that could bring in the state party, which generally prefers to stay out of local controversies.
Ellison said he supports what happened Monday. "I think that I trust the party to make sure this process is fair."
Both Ellison and Martinez said they might be amenable to one solution the party is mulling: Making the May ward convention an in-person event.
At the core of the Fifth Ward controversy — and one in the Sixth Ward — is the Minneapolis DFL's decision to allow virtual conventions.
Instead of gathering in person, voting at the conventions can be done entirely via email: A delegate's provided email account receives a code, and then a response from that email account submits the code with the delegate's vote.
In 2021, the code was sent via the U.S. Postal Service to the delegate's address, but some delegates found the process confusing. The party allowed a fully digital process this year.
Sixth Ward allegations
In the Sixth Ward, candidate Kayseh Magan is accusing opponent Tiger Worku of juicing his delegate count by inventing email addresses for delegates that someone else can use to vote in their place.
Worku denies any wrongdoing.
Magan said what caught his eye was that more than 180 of Worku's delegates used addresses with Protonmail, which is easier to set up than more well-known providers because it requires little verification. Magan, a former investigator with the Minnesota Attorney General's Office, said he contacted at least "two dozen" such delegates, and all told him they don't use Protonmail.
Magan said he plans to formally challenge many of Worku's delegates soon.
In an interview Tuesday, Worku acknowledged his campaign set up the email accounts. He said many of those delegates are older immigrants who don't use email or have smartphones. He said the convention plan is to actually host many of the delegates in person in his campaign office, using the campaign's computers to log in and vote via email.
"Everything is by the book," he said.
The incumbent Sixth Ward Council Member, Jamal Osman, is running for re-election.
The party doesn't have to endorse any candidate in any race.