November 07, 2020
President Donald Trump said if “legal” votes were counted he would “easily win.”
Michelle Fischbach, GOP candidate for Minnesota’s Seventh Congressional District seat, arrived at a watch party in Olivia, Minn., in August 2020. Aaron Lavinsky – Star Tribune File
By Jessie Van Berkel | Star Tribune
Prominent Minnesota Republican leaders joined President Donald Trump in questioning the results of an election that remained too close to call Friday, some raising unsubstantiated doubts about the integrity of the election in the state, where Democratic challenger Joe Biden won by more than 233,000 votes.
The Trump campaign’s Minnesota chairman, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, said without evidence that he does not believe any of the results from Minnesota, including the five percentage point victory of U.S. Sen. Tina Smith over GOP challenger Jason Lewis.
“I don’t know who would even vote for Tina Smith or Biden,” Lindell said. “People I talked to, everyone I know was voting the other way. I don’t know where this vote came from, I guess it’s this crazy liberal progressive stuff that starts downtown with the colleges.”
Neither Trump nor any of his Minnesota supporters have offered any specific evidence for the fraud claims he made on Thursday. “Anybody who has evidence of unlawful voting activity, they should contact the authorities,” Minnesota Secretary of State Office spokeswoman Risikat Adesaogun said Friday. “A feeling or a hunch or a guess is not the same as concrete evidence.”
Lindell, however, blamed Trump’s loss in Minnesota on fraudulent voting and cited a disputed Project Veritas report of alleged ballot harvesting in Minneapolis — a report Lindell promoted online in late September.
He also said he is confident Trump will remain president, adding that with the help of GOP court battles “a lot of things … are going to get exposed for the first time ever.”
Joining in the skepticism was former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, the congresswoman-elect for Minnesota’s Seventh District, who echoed Trump’s accusations of fraud in an interview on Fox & Friends.
“I pray that it will be handled correctly and that President Donald Trump will win, because I believe he did win,” Fischbach said. “When they didn’t win the votes of the American people, they’re just finding votes at this point.”
U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, Minnesota’s senior Republican in Congress and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, called for a “thorough investigation” of Trump’s claims. “All Americans can agree that only legal ballots should be counted,” he said in a statement. “Allegations of fraud deserve a complete and thorough investigation. Our nation is stronger when we work together to root out fraud and protect our democratic process and the right of every American to have their vote counted.”
Freshman U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber of northeastern Minnesota’s Eighth District did not condemn the president’s remarks. He said his only interest is that “every legal vote should count.”
“I’m not a lawyer and I’m not going to play one in any conversation,” Stauber said about Trump’s accusations of a stolen election. But he added that Americans need to have confidence in the integrity of our elections and that seems to be eroding. Asked if Trump bore responsibility for that erosion, Stauber said: “I’m not so sure about that. I see the fluctuations, almost four days after the election now.”
However, he said he is willing to work with a Biden administration “if all legal votes are counted” and the Democrat becomes the president-elect.
While top GOP figures in Minnesota remained noncommittal or backed Trump’s claims, other Republican leaders around the nation condemned the president’s allegations that Democrats are trying to “steal” the election. Among them was Utah U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, who voted to impeach Trump earlier this year. While backing Trump’s right to request recounts in close elections, Romney said on Twitter that Trump’s allegations of a “rigged” election “recklessly inflames destructive and dangerous passions.”
GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — whose state is a key battleground in the presidential election, where votes are still being tallied — called Trump’s claim of fraud “very disturbing.”
Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said she accepts Biden’s decisive win in Minnesota. Like Stauber, she stressed the importance of confidence in the election process, in Minnesota and nationwide. She said she believes many voters, particularly Republicans, were put off by a flurry of election-law changes in numerous states in recent months, most of them adopted in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“When changes like that are brought forward at a mass level in multiple states, it does raise questions, it does raise some doubt,” Carnahan said.
Minnesota officials agreed to count mail-in votes postmarked by Election Day even if they arrive up to seven days later. Though Republicans have challenged the rule, so far the number of ballots arriving since the polls closed Tuesday appears to be tiny fraction of Biden’s winning margin in Minnesota.
First District Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn said in a Facebook post Friday that “there is an eerily exact emerging pattern that makes the vote counting in Democrat-run battleground states suspicious.” He also raised concerns about the lengthy tabulation of votes in those states, noting that votes counted after Election Day are helping Biden.
While Minnesota’s top elected officials are Democrats, some of the closest recounts in the election are taking place under GOP officials, including in Arizona, where the governor is a Republican, and Georgia, where the secretary of state is also a Republican.
In Pennsylvania, where Biden pulled ahead in the count Friday, the GOP-controlled state legislature did not allow mail-in votes to be counted ahead of time.
Hagedorn said in a separate statement that he supports Trump’s legal challenges in several battleground states where votes are still being counted. “It’s important that every legal vote is counted. The current winning margin in several key battleground states is so minuscule, compared with the total number of votes, that the Trump team is right to take all possible steps to assure an accurate tally,” he said.
Biden appeared on the verge of winning the presidency Friday, with 264 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed. He scored a decisive victory in Minnesota, beating Trump by more than 7 percentage points.
However, Trump said in a news conference Thursday, “If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes they can try to steal the election from us, if you count the votes that came in late.”
The president has not given any evidence to back up his repeated comments about systemic election problems and officials have not found proof of widespread “illegal” votes. Election officials say the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic has further slowed the counting process.
DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin fired back Friday at the Minnesota Republicans’ comments questioning the election results. “If Minnesota Republicans like Jennifer Carnahan, Pete Stauber, and Michelle Fischbach would sooner attack American democracy than defend it, they should resign their offices and discontinue any political work for the good of our nation,” Martin said.
Staff writers Pat Condon, Jim Spencer, Stephen Montemayor and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Jessie Van Berkel writes about Minnesota government and politics at the Star Tribune. She previously covered St. Paul City Hall and local government in the south metro.