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MN Secretary of State Steve Simon Addresses Crow Wing County Claims of Election Fraud and Disinformation

 Minn. Secretary of State Steve Simon at a desk, in front of Minnesota flag.
Minn. Secretary of State's Office
MN Secretary of State Steve Simon

This morning we talked with MN Secretary of State Steve Simon. You can read this partial transcript of our conversation below, or take a listen!

Heidi Holtan :

Let’s talk about what's going on in Crow Wing County and the idea that some people have claimed “fraud on a massive scale.”

Is there evidence of this? What’s happening?

Secretary of State Steve Simon:

No, there's zero evidence of that. And you know, our process in Minnesota, we have really good laws in Minnesota that give every opportunity before, during and after an election for oversight, for review, for checks and balances.

And even now, if someone has evidence of suspected misconduct or wrongdoing, they can go to law enforcement. Of course, that that clock never runs out, but the election was held 14, really going on 15 months ago. And there is no legitimate reason to can guess the integrity of the 2020 election in Crow Wing County.

Part of the reason is credit to Crow Wing County. They ran a really topnotch election. They have one of the best election administrators around period. They run a tight ship. Their work was reviewed. They did post-election audit and reviewed. We reviewed that. It was done very professionally and ethically and non-politically.

So it's a credit to the county. First and foremost that there's no legitimate reason to second guess the results and just keep in mind for your listeners. Say, so I think there's so many balls in the air. Sometimes it's easy to, to lose track. You know, our office, we never touch ballots. We don't count votes. We don't handle ballots in any way that all happens at the local level at the county level, the city level, the township level, they're the ones who do the frontline work on elections. And in this case they got it right. And they did a really good and professional job.

John Bauer:

So who, if, they want this recount, who pays for it?

Secretary of State Steve Simon:

That's, that's a good question. And it would cost a lot of money.

You've seen what has happened in some of these so-called audits. I say so-called cause there really aren't audits that went on in places like Arizona and Texas and sort of in Wisconsin right now, those very expensive. So it's not clear now in fairness, there's this group of citizens who says, well, we'll pay for it. I'm not sure they understand how expensive this could be. I can't say we've costed it out and done an analysis of it, but it would be a lot of money. And, and just one other thing I wanted to point out is that it's beyond just a recount that they want a recount would be relatively easy. The particular words that they're asking for is they're asking for a full forensic audit of all election material and data and quote.

I have to tell you, I mean I, and we in our office, we do this for a living. I have no idea what that means.

<Laugh> it sounds so broad and sweeping. I don't know, there's no particularized direction here. It's just look at everything having to do with the election, whether it's a ballot, a piece of equipment, whatever. And, and it, it, it appears to be based on a feeling.

And I don't, I don't doubt that it's sincerely held. I don't, I'm not questioning that the folks asking for this don't believe it. I think they do, but, but it it's this sort of gut feeling a hunch, a vibe that something was not right. And that's just not good enough. If they have particular examples, they absolutely should go to law enforcement with those, but we can't undertake this kind of sweeping directionless hunt for something. We're not sure what based on someone's hunch or gut, we can't do that.

Heidi Holtan :

That's Minnesota Secretary of State, Steve Simon. We're talking about this idea of fraud on a massive scale that some people have questioned the 2020 election.

Let's go a little bit bigger. We're a National Public Radio affiliate this week. Steve Inskeep talked to former president Donald Trump.

And some of the things he was saying was…We all know there were problems and he was naming off states. What does this mean on a grander scale about kind of legitimizing or hearing some of these things in the media?

Secretary of State Steve Simon:

Well first let me push back and just say flatly that the a 2020 election in this country and in Minnesota was fundamentally fair, accurate, honest, and secure. And that's not just what I say. That's what Mr. Trump's own attorney general William Barr said explicitly. That's what the FBI director that he appointed, who still runs that agency has said explicitly and under oath. That's what over 60 federal and state judges, including judges appointed by the former president have said when presented with all sorts of allegations of misconduct or wrongdoing or misdirection unanimously, so he's wrong, he's just playing wrong.

I understand it's tough to lose an election, and it's very easy to grasp around for excuses or other explanations or even conspiracies. That's what we're seeing happening here and it's wrong. It's not just factually wrong. It is corroding our democracy in many ways.

It is unfairly causing people to question the well earned confidence that we have in our election system. No system is perfect and I want to make clear it's absolutely. Okay. There are reasonable patriotic, ethical, honest people who have different views from mine, for example elections policy that's okay. We should have that debate.

I'm not saying anyone who disagrees with me is corroding democracy, but I am saying that when you question the fundamentals with no backing and no evidence for what appears to be political reasons and in some cases, financial reasons that's wrong. And that's what we see happening. And that's what is playing out too off on a national level. And there are good people who are being taken in by this and deceived by this and being misled by this.

Heidi Holtan :

In the interview on Wednesday’s Morning Edition from NPR former President Donald Trump said that there were more votes than there were people in those states. Is that true?

Secretary of State Steve Simon:

That's absolutely categorically and provably false. Okay. It's just making stuff up.

John Bauer:

How do you, how do you keep your composure? We're supposed to be one of the greatest countries and we have a pre ex president who's just plain lying. I've heard you say zero chance, zero chance. Is this like a nightmare? Is this really happening? I mean, how do you deal with this? Cause this is your responsibility. That's gotta be hard to take.

My wife is an election judge. She said, there's Republicans and there's Democrats. And we work so hard at it and make sure we double check it and double check it all through the night. And that's just like throwing mud in their face. They're lying.

Secretary of State Steve Simon:

I'm glad you brought that up. Because as I said in Minnesota, and in most states, I'm not an expert on most states, but I know Minnesota. This is a really decentralized system. When you’re attacking the fundamentals of the system, you're attacking your friends and neighbors. You're attacking your wife.

This is done at 3000 polling places across Minnesota, by super honest, ethical people like your wife with party balance under the watchful eye of election directors, county commissioners, et cetera, it's decentralized, right?

Our office never touches ballots. We don't count them we don't handle them. We don't touch them. And so that's the way the system works, but here's the silver lining you ask, what do I do? Number one: keep telling the truth. As we know it, which is that the election was fundamentally fair, accurate, honest, and secure. That is true.

Number two and here's the silver lining. All the polling shows this too, is that when people come to discover what the election system is, rather than what they've been told, it is by a particular political leader or on Facebook or whatever, they come away with a lot more confidence. So for example, there may be some of your listeners who didn't know some of what we're talking about before, and maybe there was no reason for them to, but they assume that our office counts all the ballots or something else.

When they come to understand all these parts of the system that provide confidence and oversight and review, when they come to understand that they leave the conversation with a lot more confidence in the system. And that's good. So transparency is our friend. Let me just give you one example.

It may sound like a nerdy example, but it's a good one. We have a law in the books in Minnesota that says that in a couple weeks, two, three weeks before every election, it can be primary, a general, whatever. Anyone who owns an election piece of equipment, whether it's a township, a county, a city, they have to have, what's called a public accuracy.

Stay with me. I know this sounds like a snoozer, but it means that anyone off the street, you don't have to be a big shot VIP or journalist anything like you don't have to have an appointment. Any citizen can walk into this public meeting and watch the folks in that city township county kick the tires, so to speak of the election equipment. What they typically you do, I've been to many of these is they try to trick the election equipment to see whether withstand they scribble on the ballot, or they vote for two people when you're only supposed to vote for one and try to see if the machine will pick up on those errors.

And any citizen can ask questions, ask an election administrator, Hey, do this to it, do that to it. Let me check under the hood. You know, few people know this for obvious reasons. We've all got a life, right? And when we got jobs and families, the point is there's nothing. There's no secret here. Anyone can walk in on the street, they must be advertised. They must be made known to the public. Again, I'm not suggesting that your listeners are going to go in droves to these public accuracy tests, but surely it's confidence boosting to know something like this in the state of Minnesota exists. Anyone stroll it off the street, no one else, but you don't have to be any particular kind of person and just watch them kick the tires.

So if you have a particular concern, you know, as the former president has, and some of his supporters have spread really dangerous falsehoods about one particular election vendor. And this happens to be the, a vendor in use in Crow Wing County. And they have now sued for like over a billion dollars some of the former of the president supporters for defamation. But if you're concerned about that or any vendor go to one of these public accuracy tests, it's totally open. That's just one example. I know it's a very technical sounding one, but that's the kind of system we have. It's open, go and take a look. Now I, I would never claim to be as nerdy as you about voting, but I'm pretty close.

John Bauer:

That’s the first I've ever heard of it. Why isn't that more public knowledge?

Secretary of State Steve Simon:

Well, you ask a great question. And one of the things we're talking about now internally, and working with our partners in the county in cities is let's double down and triple down on exactly what you say.

Let's turbocharge the advertising on this. I plan at least tentatively on going around and appearing at many of these. Maybe that'll get some,( not like I'm some rockstar or anything) I don't mean that, but if I appear at a, you know, in crowing county or in akin county or whatever, and if I appear, you know, maybe that'll generate a little interest or some attendance. But, but attending more of these making them more widely known and more public, any member of the, the public stroll on in,

Heidi Holtan :

You were at the Minnesota state capitol on January 6th to mark the anniversary of the capitol insurrection in Washington. I wonder if you see a correlation between January 6th and this kind of disinformation when it comes to elections.

Secretary of State Steve Simon:

I think there are a few bad downstream effects of this campaign, of this information. One and the most obvious one is something like January 6th, where people were misled into believing that something was rigged or fixed or stolen and marched on the U.S. Capitol in a really shameful day in American history.

The other is what's been happening in state after state, after state, where on the strength of this disinformation, at least in part a lot of bad changes have been made to state laws that make voting harder for eligible voters, not for cheaters for eligible voters like you and me taking us backwards and putting up more roadblocks to voting state after state, not just the ones you hear about Texas, Georgia Florida, but Iowa, Montana Missouri and other states.

That’s a real problem. S we have work to do in combating this disinformation part of it is, is really starting with what the truth is. But also talking about it in a way that what the system is not how it's been distorted.

Heidi Holtan :

You have something called the freedom to vote agenda. What's, your hope for the future? What is this agenda?

Secretary of State Steve Simon:

I think we can get to, yes, in Minnesota on a number of things that have really bipartisan support, at least based on the growing in Minnesota and the experience of other states where Democrats and Republicans have come together, for example, and these are things that would protect and expand the freedom to vote that all of us who are eligible to vote enjoy the bottom line is we want to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat. And that's something we've done well in Minnesota, but we could do even better.

So I'll give you a couple of examples. One would be something that's commonly referred to as automatic voter registration. Although that title's a little misleading, because it's not as sweeping as it sounds. Minnesota right now, this is current law. We have what's called a motor voter law. You might have noticed the last time you went in to get your driver's license renewed, you take that eye chart test and you do all that stuff. And there is a piece of paper and it has a box on it. And it says, check here, if you want to be registered to vote, because the same information you provide for your driver's license is also the same information for registering to vote.

All that this law would do is verse that presumption. In other words, same HR test, same public office, same document, same box. But this time, instead of saying check, if you want to be, it says check, if you don't want to be, we'll assume you do, unless you tell us no. And that gets a lot more people on the voting roll and it cleans the rolls better. And earlier, in other words, we have more leads time to go through and sift and filter and do all the things that state law requires us to do to make sure the voting rules are absolutely clean.We have had a good experience in Minnesota, but we could be doing even better. So that's one example.

Another example is pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds. They're not registered to vote. Obviously you can't do that until you're 18, but it gets them in the system earlier. So that boom on their 18th birthday, when they turn 18, they would then be registered. There are states like Florida, Hawaii, red states, blue states that have enacted this. And it's really had an effect on turnout among our youngest voters. So those are some examples of things that we can do that can get bipartisan support. These aren't just partisan talking points, their actual ideas where Republicans and Democrats can come together to make our already good system even better.

John Bauer:

So one calm question for you. We've been asking people this today, what does the Minnesota secretary of state see if Simon do to calm himself during this pandemic and stuff? What is your go-to thing sitting in the couch in jams? Or what is it

Secretary of State Steve Simon:

Interesting. Calming, right. Wow. That's a great question. And a fair question. Would I to calm myself? I mean yeah. You know, at the end of the day, literally at the end of the day, I have too little. So when the kids are in bed, finally, you know, you can sort of decompress and maybe watch, watch something on TV. That's just entertaining I'm into Ted lasso lately. Haven't finished season two. So no spoiler alerts,

Heidi Holtan :

That's Minnesota Secretary of State, Steve Simon. For more information, you can go to his website, SOS, Thank you so much for your time as always.

Secretary of State Steve Simon:

Pleasure. Thanks for having me on have a great weekend.

Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.
John has been listening to KAXE since the early days in 1976, and has worked as our Development Director from 1995-2022. Now semi-retired and writing, sculpting and enjoying the good life, you can hear him on the Morning Show Fridays.