Minnesota group fights to stop voting changes

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Outside the beige walls of the Ramsey County Courthouse, more than 30 people chanted “Democracy!” in near-freezing weather Wednesday and held up signs reading, “We Choose Us” — the name of a voting rights advocacy organization that opposes efforts to make voting more difficult in counties across Minnesota.

Members said groups such as the Dakota County Patriots and MidWest Swamp Watch are “attacking our democracy” by calling for “dangerous changes” that include hand-counting ballots, limiting drop-off boxes, and flooding a county election office with dozens of data requests that are bogging down staff.

Drop boxes make it easier for seniors and people with disabilities to submit their ballots without standing in line for long periods of time, said Lilly Sasse, campaign director of We Choose Us.

There are safeguards in Minnesota to make sure the drop boxes are secure, and “we should absolutely keep them because they keep our democracy more accessible to more people,” Sasse added.

In the weeks leading up to the election, members of We Choose Us plan to testify at county board meetings in hopes of persuading officials to continue with machine counting of paper ballots instead of switching to hand counting. Election officials counter that machine counting is more accurate than hand counting.

MidWest Swamp Watch President Rick Weible told The Associated Press that he hopes counties will do away with drop boxes and instead use the money to encourage more mail-in balloting, which he said would be more accessible to people in the disability community. He added that the public should be able to access detailed records to determine the effectiveness and security of voting machinery.

Dakota County Patriots did not immediately respond to AP’s requests for comment on Wednesday.

“Our office is aware that county boards, which set some rules and procedures for elections administration, have increasingly been contacted by members of the public about policy proposals that seem to be inspired by disinformation about how elections are conducted in Minnesota,” Cassondra Knudson, a spokesperson for Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, said in an email.

“In reality, Minnesota is looked to as a national leader in elections law and policies that equally prioritize accessibility, security, and accuracy,” Knudson said.

Across the country, election workers are facing conspiracy theories and harassment from those doubting the integrity of voting equipment. Drop boxes have been a frequent flash point.

Despite false claims by former President Donald Trump and his allies that the 2020 election was stolen due to manipulated voting machines, there is no evidence to support those claims — no major problems have been reported for voting equipment, and audits confirmed that the equipment worked correctly during the election.