Right-wing media -- led by a FoxNews.com article rife with distortions -- have hyped a report by a right-wing group alleging instances of voter fraud in the 2008 Minnesota Senate election to baselessly suggest that Al Franken was "elected by felons" and that his win represents a "Senate seat stolen" and "an illegal victory." But, local officials have reportedly said that the group's data "is not good," and that the report makes claims that are "not accurate" and "likely inflated."
Right-wing media hype conservative group's report to suggest voter fraud led to Franken's Senate victory
FoxNews.com: "Felons Voting Illegally May Have Put Franken Over the Top in Minnesota, Study Finds." A July 12 FoxNews.com article, titled, "Felons Voting Illegally May Have Put Franken Over the Top in Minnesota, Study Finds," stated that "[t]he six-month election recount that turned former 'Saturday Night Live' comedian Al Franken into a U.S. senator may have been decided by convicted felons who voted illegally in Minnesota's Twin Cities." FoxNews.com further stated:
That's the finding of an 18-month study conducted by Minnesota Majority, a conservative watchdog group, which found that at least 341 convicted felons in largely Democratic Minneapolis-St. Paul voted illegally in the 2008 Senate race between Franken, a Democrat, and his Republican opponent, then-incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman.
The final recount vote in the race, determined six months after Election Day, showed Franken beat Coleman by 312 votes -- fewer votes than the number of felons whose illegal ballots were counted, according to Minnesota Majority's newly released study, which matched publicly available conviction lists with voting records.
The report said that in Hennepin County, which in includes Minneapolis, 899 suspected felons had been matched on the county's voting records, and the review showed 289 voters were conclusively matched to felon records. The report says only three people in the county have been charged with voter fraud so far.
A representative of the Hennepin County attorney's office, who declined to give her name, said "there was no one in the office today to talk about the charges."
But the report got a far different review in Ramsey County, which contains St. Paul. Phil Carruthers of the Ramsey County attorney's office said his agency had taken the charges "very seriously" and found that the Minnesota Majority "had done a good job in their review."
Carruthers said Ramsey County is still investigating all the names and has asked that 15 investigators be hired to complete the process. "So far we have charged 28 people with felonies, have 17 more under review and have 182 cases still open," he said. "And there is a good chance we may match or even exceed their numbers."
Drudge: "Felons Voting Illegally May Have Put Sen. Franken Over the Top." On July 12, the Drudge Report linked to the FoxNews.com article with the headline, "Felons Voting Illegally May Have Put Sen. Franken Over the Top in Minnesota." From the Drudge Report:
Hoft: "Felons Voting Illegally Likely Gave Franken Senate Seat." In a July 12 Gateway Pundit post, Jim Hoft wrote: "Voter fraud you can believe in. Felons voting illegally likely gave Al Franken his victory in the Minnesota Senate Race." Hoft also linked to the FoxNews.com article.
Fox Nation: "Study: Felons May Have Put Franken in Office." On July 12, the Fox Nation linked to the FoxNews.com article with the headline, "Study: Felons May Have Put Franken in Office." From the Fox Nation:
Fox & Friends: "Senate seat stolen?" On the July 13 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson noted that Franken beat Republican Norm Coleman by 312 votes in the 2008 Senate election and stated: "Well, now, a new study put out by a conservative watchdog group has said that felons actually voted in this election and not once but twice ...And guess how many did -- 341." She also falsely claimed that "of course, felons are not allowed to vote in this country," when, in fact, the laws regarding a convicted felon's ability to vote vary from state to state. In Minnesota, people with felony convictions can vote once they have completed their parole or probation. Co-host Steve Doocy then said that "if he won by 312, and 341 felons voted -- oh, boy, Norm Coleman should still be in office." During the segment, on-screen text read, "Franken elected by felons? Illegal voting may have put Dem on top"; "Senate seat stolen?"; and "An illegal victory?"
From the July 13 Fox & Friends:
CARLSON: Let's talk about what's happening in my home state of Minnesota. Because, as you all know, about 18 months ago, Al Franken was elected a first-time senator from that state. It was a very close race; it went to the courts. He eventually beat Republican Norm Coleman. Here was the vote total that he beat them by: 312 votes. Well, now, a new study put out by a conservative watchdog group has said that felons actually voted in this election and not once but twice -- and, of course, felons are not allowed to vote in this country. And guess how many did -- 341.
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): Go ahead, Steve.
DOOCY: Well, I was just going to say, if he won by 312, and 341 felons voted -- oh, boy, Norm Coleman should still be in office. It's interesting, this study was done by an outfit called Minnesota Majority, which is a conservative watchdog, and they gave some of their information to two of the counties in Minnesota saying, OK, we cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube; we can't throw Al Franken out of office. We just want to make sure that this doesn't happen again next time. One county said, look, the statistics are all wrong and the data is wrong. The other county, Ramsey County, said these guys did a good job and we are taking these allegations very seriously.
KILMEADE: All right, well we'll see, because the election board in that area is very Democratic, over in St. Paul, as you mentioned.
Star-Tribune: "[O]fficials say the group's reports are likely inflated and hard to verify"
Star-Tribune: "Local and state officials say the group's reports are likely inflated and hard to verify." A July 12 MinneapolisStar-Tribune article reported that "Twin Cities prosecutors are investigating hundreds of cases of suspected voter fraud flagged by Minnesota Majority," but that "[i]nitial reviews by state and local officials, however, indicate that the problem may be far smaller than the group found in a recent study being championed by the Minnesota Republican Party." The Star-Tribune further reported:
The Ramsey County Attorney's Office said Monday it is investigating about 180 cases out of 500 that were brought forward by Minnesota Majority, which recently completed an 18-month study of state voter and criminal conviction lists. Charges were brought against 28 felons for allegedly voting or registering illegally in 2008. But another 267 reports were found to be "inaccurate" after an initial review, according to Ramsey County Prosecution Division Director Phil Carruthers.
Deputy Hennepin County Attorney Pat Diamond said his office is still looking at 216 allegations flagged by Minnesota Majority, out of 451 that were brought forward by the group. No charges have been brought as a result of the report, though a handful of other individuals have been charged with fraudulent voting.
Both prosecutors said they are using several extra investigators to look at the rest of the reports.
According to a report released two weeks ago by Minnesota Majority, 1,359 names of suspected ineligible felons were forwarded to these two counties for investigation.
But local and state officials say the group's reports are likely inflated and hard to verify because of difficulties determining whether the suspected felon voters had their voting rights restored, if they knew they were ineligible to vote, or if they were actually the people whose names appear on voter rolls.
Fox News.com article reportedly contained "inaccuracies" and distortions
MN county official claims FoxNews.com distorted his words to suggest he praised Minnesota Majority study, when in fact, he felt "much of their data is not good." In a July 12 post that discussed FoxNews.com's article, MinnPost.com wrote that "[i]n the hyper-excited Fox News reports," Phil Carruthers, director of the prosecution division in the Ramsey County attorney's office, "is quoted as praising the Minnesota Majority study." MinnPost then quoted Carruthers as saying, "What I said is that they did as well as they could do given the data they had, but much of their data is not good."
Pioneer Press notes another "inaccura[cy]" in FoxNews.com's report: They inflated scope of Ramsey County investigation. In addition to distorting Carruthers' words to suggest he praised the group's work, the Pioneer Press reported that the July 12 FoxNews.com article "inaccurately stated that the Ramsey County attorney's office is seeking to hire 15 investigators to assist with its investigation." The Pioneer Press noted that "[t]he investigation currently occupies four taxpayer-funded staffers within the county attorney's office" and that Carruthers said "he wants to add two or three part-time investigators." The Pioneer Press further reported: "And it is not a new investigation but an effort that has been under way since shortly after the 2008 election and takes place after every election -- a prosecutorial check into complaints of voter fraud." From the Pioneer Press:
The Ramsey County attorney's office has charged 30 people with election fraud in connection with the 2008 general election, a top official there said Monday.
The charges are the result of an ongoing investigation that included 746 referrals, mostly from an election reform-minded conservative group, Minnesota Majority. The investigation currently occupies four taxpayer-funded staffers within the county attorney's office, with Phil Carruthers, director of the prosecutions division, saying he wants to add two or three part-time investigators.
"It's a huge project," Carruthers said.
The news surfaced after long-standing, and largely discredited, allegations that Minnesota's 2008 U.S. Senate election was tainted by fraud were renewed Monday by a Fox News online report and amplified by the state Republican Party.
A Monday GOP news release claimed Ramsey County had kicked off a "massive voter fraud investigation" based on the Fox report, which claimed that more convicted felons may have voted in the 2008 election than the final margin in the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Al Franken and Norm Coleman. That story was based on a recent report by Minnesota Majority, which compared the state's voter database to criminal records and resulted in hundreds of names being forwarded to local prosecutors for investigation.
But the FoxNews.com report inaccurately stated that the Ramsey County attorney's office is seeking to hire 15 investigators to assist with its investigation. And it is not a new investigation but an effort that has been under way since shortly after the 2008 election and takes place after every election -- a prosecutorial check into complaints of voter fraud.
Official investigating Minnesota Majority's voter fraud claims: "[M]uch of their data is not good"
MinnPost.com quotes Carruthers as saying of Minnesota Majority's report: "[M]uch of their data is not good." Responding to FoxNews.com's alleged mischaracterization of his comments regarding the Minnesota Majority's report, Carruthers said that he actually said "much of their data is not good."
MinnPost: Carruthers said that 270 supposed examples of voter fraud provided by Minnesota Majority "were just not accurate." MinnPost further reported that Carruthers cast doubt on many purported examples of voter fraud provided to the county by Minnesota Majority:
• Of the 475 cases Minnesota Majority questioned, 270 examples were just not accurate, Carruthers said.
There are reasons for so many inaccuracies, Carruthers said. For example, because of data privacy laws, Minnesota Majority was able only to get year of birth of many of the people they claimed had voted illegally. But, for the group to be sure it had the right individual, it would have needed the actual date of birth.
"In a state with so many Johnsons," said Carruthers, "you have many people with the same name born in the same year. You have to have date of birth, to be sure you have the right person.''
• Additionally, Carruthers said, Minnesota Majority would not have had access to changes in sentencing. For example, a person who initially had been sentenced to 10 years of probation may have had that probation reduced during the period of the sentence. At that point, the individual's civil rights - including the right to vote - would have been restored.
Still, there were people who voted, or registered to vote, who were not eligible. That's a felony, and if found guilty, they could face five years in prison and a $10,000, though Carruthers said that would be unlikely.
Contrary to Fox's completely baseless suggestion, Carruthers reportedly said that there is no indication of "effort to steal the election"
Pioneer Press: Carruthers said "that he hasn't seen anything to indicate there was any organized effort to steal the election." Contrary to Fox & Friends' completely baseless suggestion of "Senate seat stolen" in Franken's victory, the Pioneer Press reported on July 12 that Carruthers said "that he hasn't seen anything to indicate there was any organized effort to steal the election." From the Pioneer Press:
Carruthers said more than a third of their list was immediately dismissed, and another 135 have been investigated without resulting in charges. Seventeen cases are pending a review by attorneys.
"We take them very seriously. These are felonies. It takes careful investigation, and it's time-consuming," Carruthers said.
But he added that he hasn't seen anything to indicate there was any organized effort to steal the election.
"I wouldn't say that we're getting any differing series of cases than what we've seen in the past," Carruthers said.
MPR: Carruthers "said it's impossible to say whether the illegal voting might have altered the outcome of the Senate race." In a July 12 article, Minnesota Public Radio reported that Carruthers "said it's impossible to say whether the illegal voting might have altered the outcome of the Senate race." MPR further reported:
"It's total speculation. First of all so far only a limited number of people in fact have been charged with illegally voting so the number is very limited," Carruthers said. "And then of course we don't know who they would have voted for or did vote for, so it's total speculation."
Minnesota Majority's report does not claim illegal voting led to Franken's win
Report does not even mention Franken or Senate election. Right-wing media have hyped Minnesota Majority's report as saying that it found illegal voting by felons may have led to Franken's victory over Coleman. However, the report does not make that claim nor does it mention Franken, Coleman, or the Senate election.