Republican secretary of state candidate Kim Crockett is proposing a slate of voting restrictions she believes will boost confidence in an election system that she has attempted to undermine by falsely describing the 2020 election as illegitimate.
If elected to oversee Minnesota's elections, Crockett said she would push to shorten the state's early voting period from 46 days to no more than two weeks, eliminate same-day voter registration, require photo identification at polling places and limit the use of absentee ballots. The Minnesota Legislature would need to approve such changes.
"The singular goal that I have is to calm down the conversation in Minnesota over who won," said Crockett, an attorney running against Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon. "It's tough to have the conversation because there's a fever-pitch propaganda campaign aimed at candidates like me where we get labeled terrible things. … Election denier. What does that mean? I don't know what that is. I'm trying to propose reasonable alternatives to the way we vote."
Crockett is among a number of Republicans running for secretary of state offices nationwide who deny or cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election, despite the fact that reviews in state after state upheld President Joe Biden's win over former President Donald Trump. Crockett believes Minnesota should tighten its voting laws even in the absence of evidence of widespread voter fraud, saying "it's just something we have to assume."
She alleges that Simon, who supports voting by mail, "rigged" the election in Minnesota when he agreed to a court-approved consent decree that relaxed some absentee voting requirements amid the pandemic. The 2020 changes affected all voters, but Crockett argues they favored Democrats, who she believes are more likely to vote by mail than Republicans.
A record-high 58% of Minnesotans voted absentee in 2020 — more than double the previous election — as people looked to reduce potential exposure to COVID-19.
Democrats and voting rights groups have sounded the alarm about Crockett's rhetoric, saying it undercuts faith in elections, and they worry that her policy agenda would make it more difficult for Minnesotans to vote.
"Where we take issue is when any candidate utilizes information they know is false, data they know is suspect at best, to try and move a particular policy agenda that they know is in no way, shape or form doing anything to improve access to the ballot," said Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, a nonpartisan voting rights group that typically doesn't weigh in on specific races.
In August, Common Cause Minnesota issued a statement rebuking Crockett for comments she made during a radio interview railing against proposed election law changes and telling listeners, "This is our 9/11." Crockett told the Star Tribune that she meant the proposed changes should be a "wake-up call" for Republicans and then claimed to be victim of a "hit piece."
Simon, running for his third four-year term, has repeatedly said the 2020 election was "fair, accurate, honest and secure." As of last month, Simon said there had been just 16 proven cases of voter misconduct among 3.3 million eligible Minnesota voters since the 2020 election, and some of those were unsuccessful.
He suggested his race against Crockett could determine whether Minnesota keeps its existing election laws, which have helped the state rank first nationally in voter turnout, or impose "severe" restrictions on the basis of "conspiracy theories."
"I think democracy is on the ballot," Simon said.
Crockett has focused on ballot integrity throughout her years as a public policy advocate. She started her career as a corporate lawyer, serving as counsel for TCF Bank. She was a Deephaven City Council member for several years before joining the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative Minnesota think tank.
Crockett and other Republicans who have been labeled "election deniers" have accused their opponents of trying to silence discussion about election integrity. They also note some Democrats doubted Trump's 2016 election victory, claiming it was tainted by Russian interference.
The GOP candidate said it is not her job to find evidence to back her claims of a rigged election.
On the campaign trail, Crockett said she hears from many Republican voters who lack confidence in the election system.
Tightening voting laws, Crockett said, could help restore Republican voters' confidence. She wants to "skinny down" mail-in voting by limiting it to certain people, whom she did not specify. But she noted some European countries do not allow absentee voting "unless you're in the military or hospitalized."
GOP state Rep. Dean Urdahl said he's backing Crockett because he wants to see more Minnesotans return to voting in person on Election Day.
Republican state senator and former Minnesota secretary of state Mary Kiffmeyer also endorsed Crockett, who she believes will "support greater transparency and auditing" of election results. She says Simon has been dismissive of some Republicans' election concerns.
"Because half of the people are happy with the outcome doesn't mean all of the people are happy with the process," Kiffmeyer said.
Simon said he's seeking to improve Minnesotans' confidence by countering disinformation with facts. For example, Simon said some prominent conservatives have told their social media followers to "agitate" for post-election audits. Minnesota already audits random precincts' election results.
The state also conducts public accuracy tests right before the election. Any citizen can observe as election administrators try to trick the voting equipment, a test to ensure the machines catch any irregularities.
"We have in Minnesota a robust system of multilayer reviews and audits," Simon said. "Instead of talking about it, I and we have got to show, not just tell."
Ultimately, Simon is not sure such displays will repair distrust in elections. He said politicians who repeat falsehoods about elections are sowing further doubt. He took specific aim at Crockett for her "rigged" comments on the campaign trail.
"I think it's bizarre and disqualifying," Simon said. "It comes from a disturbing and longstanding reliance, on her part, on conspiracy theories."
Earlier this year, the chair of the Minnesota Republican Party apologized for a campaign video played by Crockett at the state Republican convention that used an anti-Semitic trope. The video depicted liberal donor George Soros as a puppet master with Simon and Democratic elections lawyer Marc Elias dangling from his fingers and displayed the words "Let's wreck elections forever and ever and ever." All three men are Jewish.
In 2019, Crockett was suspended from her role as vice president and general counsel of the Center of the American Experiment for comments she made to the New York Times about the resettlement of Somali refugees in Minnesota.
"These aren't people coming from Norway, let's put it that way. These people are very visible," Crockett told the Times.
Her remarks were widely criticized as Islamophobic, and she apologized at the time. But in an interview last month, Crockett insisted her comment to the Times was "taken out of context."
Former Minnesota Secretary of State Joan Growe, a Democrat, said she opposes the voting changes Crockett is pitching and accused her of "trying to frighten voters into believing that their vote isn't counted."
"It sounds to me like we're going back, back, back to where the philosophy was, 'let's try to prevent people from voting,' " Growe said.