Republican Kim Crockett said Monday she would seek to shorten Minnesota's early voting period, require voters to show photo ID and scrutinize the use of absentee ballots if elected secretary of state in November.
For his part, Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon said Minnesota should keep its voting laws intact — noting the state frequently ranks first nationally in turnout — and consider automatically registering eligible people to vote upon getting their driver's license.
The two candidates vying to oversee Minnesota's election system touted vastly different approaches to the office during separate question-and-answer sessions Monday at the Star Tribune's State Fair booth.
Crockett's push to impose tighter voting laws stems from her belief that the 2020 election was "rigged" in Minnesota, a falsehood that has no evidence supporting it. Her charge follows the same line used by former President Donald Trump about the national presidential election, even though that assertion by Trump has been repeatedly disproven.
"Even if everything is on the up-and-up, people are looking at [election results] and saying, 'I don't believe it anymore,'" said Crockett, an attorney. "It's tearing apart families and it's tearing apart our country. It has to stop, and the only way to do that is to look at our election laws and say, 'Where are we leaking confidence?'"
Simon, who's seeking his third four-year term, said politicians who have repeated falsehoods about the 2020 election or falsely portrayed the election system are partly to blame for growing public distrust.
"I think the number one challenge to our democracy nationally, and I'd say in Minnesota, too, is this wave of disinformation that has unfortunately washed over too many places in our country and in our state," Simon said.
Simon has drawn Republicans' ire for his outspokenness on election security and connection to a court-approved consent decree that relaxed some absentee voting requirements amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Fifty-eight percent of Minnesotans voted absentee in 2020 as the virus spread before vaccines became widely available.
Crockett charges that voting changes allowed by Simon during the pandemic were inappropriate and favored Democrats, even though the measures affected the entire electorate and not one party or the other.
She said the shift from in-person voting toward absentee voting reflects a culture that "emphasizes convenience and turnout over making sure that every ballot that's a legal ballot … is counted."
Crockett said that shortening Minnesota's 46-day early voting period and requiring all voters to show photo IDs could increase confidence in the system. She also wants Republican and Democratic election judges to screen every absentee ballot. Minnesota cities and counties get to choose who counts absentee ballots, with some tapping election judges and others relying on their employees.
"Our whole nation is in an uproar right now over elections and I think we need to calm things down in order to be responsible," Crockett said.
Simon stressed that absentee voting is secure, noting that Minnesotans must provide their signature and personal information such as their Social Security or driver's license number when ordering a ballot.
Theoretically, Simon said, a mailbox thief would have to know not only the exact personal information provided by the voter, but also accurately forge their signature and obtain the separate witness signature that's required to vote by mail.
"Unless all of three of those things were true, you're not going to have someone swiping successfully a ballot from a mailbox and then voting it," Simon said.
As of two weeks ago, Simon said, there had been 16 proven cases of voter misconduct among 3.3 million eligible voters in Minnesota since the 2020 election — and some of those were unsuccessful.
The secretary of state disagreed with requiring all voters to show photo IDs, saying he understands the idea's "surface appeal" but thinks it would make it harder for senior home residents who don't have IDs with updated addresses to vote.
If he's re-elected, Simon said, he would advocate for automatic voter registration and to restore voting rights for felons who've served their prison time and been released. Both proposals would require legislative action.
Currently, Minnesotans check a box on their driver's license paperwork if they want to be registered to vote at the same time. Simon's automatic registration proposal would change that box to say "check here if you don't want to be registered," he said, switching the system from an opt-in to an opt-out.
Also Monday, Crockett defended comments she made in a September radio interview in which she compared proposed election law changes to "our 9/11." Crockett's comments, which surfaced on CNN last week, were swiftly criticized.
Crockett said she meant that the proposed changes should be a "wake-up call" for Republicans. Since the story was published, Crockett said she's been threatened and has had to hire security, noting the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office is investigating the matter.