McDonald on Voter Fraud Allegations in Minnesota

Here is a guest post from Michael McDonald:

    The answer to Rick’s question “Did Enough Illegal Felons Vote in Minnesota in 2008 to Tip the Balance to Al Franken?” is no. According to a report produced by Minnesota Majority, to date 10 of 2,921,147 ballots were found to be illegally cast in the 2008 Minnesota general election, for a rate of 0.0003%. Even if all of these illegal ballots included recorded votes cast for Sen. Franken, this is insufficient to alter the outcome of a 225 vote margin.
    There are solid reasons to suspect that Minnesota Majority has overstated the number of illegal votes. Their report begins with describing simple matching procedures between the voter file and a list of felons on only name (first, last, and middle) and birth year, which will generate a number of false positive matches. So, the number of 1,359 individuals citing repeatedly in the report, 899 in Hennepin and 460 in Ramsey, should be dismissed as a clear over-estimate. (Why is it always the Democratic areas that are only investigated?) Assuming that Minnesota Majority performed the simple matching procedure correctly as they described without further massaging the data, which is what the New Jersey Republican Party did to inflate the number of false matches in allegations of double voting that used similar database matching procedures.
    Minnesota Majority describes some poorly documented additional procedures involving the checking of other court records whereby they winnowed this number of allegedly illegal votes down to 341, 289 in Hennepin and 52 in Ramsey. Of those, 9 have been convicted, and if I read the report properly, a 10th individual was identified and convicted independently by the Ramsey County Attorney General’s office. From the timeline on p.7 of the report, it appears that by June 24th Hennepin County decided not to pursue 683 of the 899 simple matches and Ramsey County had ruled out 5 of the 460. These in-depth investigations by the Attorneys’ General offices that have led to 10 convictions are of the type – I hope – that I believe are the correct method to deal with these simple matches. As Justin Levitt and I have argued in an article published in The Election Law Journal, and the Brennan Center has discussed in greater detail in a report on database matching procedures, a simple match alone is insufficient evidence in support of an illegal vote.
    Up to this point I am in agreement that this is the way to proceed with this matter and I think a service has been done to protect the integrity of the ballot that will likely dissuade similar abuse in the future. However, I find it distasteful to publicize names of people in the Minnesota Majority report whose charges were dismissed, perhaps because they were flagged due to the bad luck of having the same name and birth year as a felon. If this is the case, Minnesota Majority caused and continues to cause these people emotional distress and should desist this misguided vigilante justice. I also think it is clearly disingenuous for Minnesota Majority to state the failure by the county Attorneys General to investigate 1,359 individuals is evidence of a “gross travesty of justice” when their own checks of unknown quality winnow this number down to 341. At best, that is the number that should be cited, minus those where the allegations have been investigated and dismissed. I find this not only to be political grandstanding meant to cast doubt on the 2008 election, but disrespectful of law enforcement officials whose resources are likely stretched thin by budget cuts. It makes me wonder what the penalty is under Minnesota law for knowingly making a frivolous allegation under Minnesota Statute section 201.275, which is what in my opinion Minnesota Majority did when, as I understand from their report, they submitted in their affidavit to the county Attorneys General 1,359 names generated by a simple match and not the 341 names that they had verified, assuming those procedures were sound. To repeat, a simple match alone is insufficient evidence in support of an illegal vote, a fact that Minnesota Majority likely understood when they conducted their additional records search to verify the illegal votes.
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