The top candidates for Minnesota secretary of state squared off in their first debate Sunday night on WCCO Radio and the gloves came off almost immediately.
“My mission as secretary of state has been to protect the freedom to vote for every eligible Minnesotan. I’ve been proud to do that work with fairness, impartiality, and integrity, leading to results that we can all be really proud of,” said Secretary Steve Simon, a Democrat seeking a third term as Minnesota’s chief elections official.
He attacked his opponent, Republican Kim Crockett, for having a “darker vision for our democracy,” saying she is motivated by “disturbing hyper-partisanship and increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories.”
“Her extremism is unfortunate and it is disqualifying,” he continued, criticizing her doubts about the 2020 election.
Crockett responded by calling for a debate on policy, not personalities.
“Instead of talking about policy differences, the media and partisans demonize differences of opinion. As a result, many people tune out politics as angry and divisive, and few things are more divisive than the topic of elections,” she said. “It is easier to accept elections when we feel certain that the process was fair.”
Crockett said same-day voter registration without provisional balloting is one of the laws in Minnesota “that has undermined our sense of fairness and confidence in the system.”
If a voter registers on Election Day, the “voter’s ballot is counted just like the person who’s registered early and has been determined eligible.”
“If you’re going to have same-day registration, you absolutely should have something called provisional ballots so that election officials have time to verify the eligibility of the voter,” she said.
Provisional balloting is the practice of segregating the ballots of voters whose registration status is in question and only counting them after a voter’s registration information is verified.
Simon said he objects to provisional balloting because it would “create a maybe pile.” He said voters who have their ballots challenged would be required to “do something in the next week.”
“They would have to take a half day or a full day off of work and go to their county seat and prove a bunch of stuff. That would not serve us well,” he said.
Crockett said Minnesota’s 46-day early voting period was created with good intentions but is “excessive” and should be reserved for special circumstances.
She said major events can take place within those 46 days, such as the death of a candidate or a political scandal.
Simon, however, claimed the 46-day period has “strong bipartisan support” and noted that Minnesota has a “clawback period” where voters can change their votes up to seven days before the election.
On the issue of mail-in voting, Crockett called for restoring party balance to absentee ballot boards, which are responsible for counting absentee ballots.
Simon said it is up to each county if they want to staff absentee ballot boards with county officials or party representatives.
Crockett was asked about her skepticism of the 2020 election, specifically a June comment where she referred to herself as the “election denier in chief.” Video (22 minute mark) from the June rally where those comments were made shows Crockett was criticizing the media for using that label.
“You know what that makes you? An election denier. Have you heard that phrase? Well that’s what they call me in the left-wing press, in the mainstream media. You’re looking at your election denier in chief. Now isn’t this absurd? They are trying to shut us all up,” she said in June.
The candidates also disagreed on the topic of voter ID, which Simon described as “draconian.” The secretary said he understands the “appeal” of requiring a photo ID to vote but pointed out that Minnesota voters have already rejected the idea because it has the “effect of shutting out eligible voters.”
“Seniors in our lives … are the ones who would be most impacted by the kind of draconian laws that I’ve seen proposed around the country on this question,” he said.
Crockett argued that some form of photo ID is necessary to “function on a daily basis in our modern society.”
“On Simon’s watch, Democrats let illegal immigrants and felons vote in precinct caucuses, and he and his party oppose commonsense measures like photo ID for elections, even though they required it at their own convention,” Minnesota GOP Chairman David Hann said after the debate. “Minnesotans deserve better and recent polls show this race is neck and neck because the voters are ready for a change in the secretary of state’s office.”
Listen to the full debate here.