Voters, activists face off against judges

Students vouching for unregistered voters were kicked out of polls.

EVELINA SMIRNITSKAYA AND FRANK BI

Shouting matches broke out between election judges and challengers and advocates at polling places near the University of Minnesota Tuesday.
At University Lutheran Church, Jeb Saelens, president of Students Organizing for America  at the University, was entering the polling location to vouch for a friend when he saw an election judge âÄúscreaming at [his] friend Mike, and him âĦ screaming back.âÄù
SaelensâÄô friend was insisting he had the right to vouch for the person he was with, but was told to leave the premises by the judge.
Ginny Gelms , the interim elections director, said officials are looking into the incident. Gelms said she sent another election judge to the polling location after hearing about possible issues.
 According to that judge, the on-site election judge had âÄúreason to believeâÄù that there were a handful of people in the polling area vouching for people they didnâÄôt know, which violates election rules.
Vouching is one way to prove voter residence. It means taking an oath, Gelms said.
âÄúIf you take that oath and you donâÄôt know that the person lives in the precinct, youâÄôre in effect perjuring yourself,âÄù she said.
The incident may be passed on to the Office of Administrative Hearings or the city or county attorney , she said. She was unsure whether breaking the vouching oath carried legal recourse.
Gelms said election judges must note all fraudulent activity.
âÄúThe chair judge has pretty broad discretionary of powers to ask people to leave the polling place,âÄù Gelms said. âÄúThis judge exercised those powers.âÄù
There was another unrelated incident when a girl attempted to vouch for voters and was turned away, Saelens said.
âÄúThis is unacceptable.âÄù Saelens said. âÄúStudents already have a hard time voting âĦ When you have elections judges like these, disfranchising voters, itâÄôs a travesty.âÄù
After watching the advocate get âÄúforced out,âÄù Saelens said he proceeded to the polling room and was in line when he saw two police officers in uniform enter, looking for the election judge.
However, Minneapolis police Sgt. Bill Palmer said police did not receive a call asking for a dispatch to the church. Unless called, police stay away from polling areas, he said.
Two challengers, who were monitoring voter fraud for certain political parties, were at the polling location. They also said they saw the Minneapolis police officers entering the polling room shortly before 6 p.m. and leaving soon after.
Challengers at other polling spots also faced altercations with judges, with whom they check voter eligibility. On Tuesday some of the âÄúwatchers,âÄù or challengers, simply walked up to voters and inquired about their registration status âÄî without going through a judge.
Over-aggression by election challengers looking for voter fraud was another issue plaguing the election process. It primarily occurred earlier in the day, Hennepin County election official Rachel Smith  said, when a few challengers seemed to be unaware of their role.
At the polling place in Seven Corners apartments  on the West Bank, a challenger was yelling at an election judge. The exact issue of the argument was unclear, but the challenger was not able to re-enter the polling station.
 âÄúThe challengers thought they could wander around the polling place,âÄù Smith said.
They are required by law to stay behind the registration table and cannot confront a voter about eligibility based on voter behavior.
Poll watchers were more vigilant following concerns of voter fraud leading up to the election.
Some Tea Party voters in Minnesota planned to wear buttons reading âÄúPlease ID MeâÄù to raise awareness of fraud at polling stations. On Monday, a federal judge ruled in favor of a ban not allowing such buttons, saying they qualified as political speech.
Minnesota Majority  executive director Dan McGrath , urged his coalitionâÄôs supporters to disregard the judgeâÄôs request. He said many supporters who wore the button were able to vote, but a few were turned away after refusing to take off the pin.
âÄúThe inconsistent standards are coming to light,âÄù said McGrath, who warned of the potential difficulties in enforcing the judgeâÄôs order.
According to Smith, election judges were instructed to allow voters wearing pins to cast their ballots, but their information would be recorded in an incident log.
Minnesota Majority is part of a coalition of conservative groups that recruited more than 10,000 volunteers to watch and report any issues at the polls. The group established a hotline this year for voters to report any incidences. More than 200 reports were fielded throughout the day, said McGrath.
Most of them have been very minor and deal with voters being turned away for having improper identification, McGrath said.