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Backlash as Trump campaign, Minneapolis police union seek retired cops to act as 'poll challengers'

The Secretary of State says targeting a "problem area" is unlawful.

President Donald Trump's campaign and the Minneapolis Police Union have apparently put out a call for retired officers to keep an eye on polling places on Election Day.

That's according to an email obtained by the Star Tribune from William Willingham to Minneapolis Police President Lt. Bob Kroll in which he asks the union head to recruit 20-30 former MPD officers to serve as "poll challengers" in a "problem area" who will report any fraud they see. 

Kroll, according to the Star Tribune, then passed on the request to members of the union. 

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon in a tweet Wednesday night said: "Targeting a voter for a challenge based on being in a so-called 'problem area' is unlawful and will not be permitted in Minnesota's polling places." 

Poll challengers are allowed under state law – the only action they may take is to contest a voter's eligibility "if and only if they have personal knowledge of that voter's ineligibility." Here are the rules on the Minnesota Secretary of State's website.

State law does not allow poll watchers. 

In a statement Wednesday night, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said:

“The men and women of the Minneapolis Police Department have taken a solemn oath to protect the Constitutional rights of all without favor or bias. We will remain apolitical in our service and our department policies and values apply to us whether we are on or off duty. We are focused singularly on protecting our residents most sacred democratic right — the right to safely cast their ballot without intimidation or interference.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also commented on the report, saying in a series of tweets, "Safe and complete access at the polls is not a negotiable item in Minneapolis. We will not allow anyone to threaten that inalienable right, and we will ensure its total protection for every resident, period."

"Throughout this election season, our entire local government, from our elections staff to our police department, has dedicated itself to ensuring free and fair access to the ballot box, and that commitment is unwavering," Frey added. 

This report comes amid concerns about voter intimidation and suppression in Minnesota and elsewhere across the country on Election Day. Earlier this month, a firm was recruiting "armed security" for Minnesota polling places. But after an investigation from Attorney General Keith Ellison into the claims, the AG and the group – Atlas Aegis – reached an agreement and won't be here on Election Day.

“Minnesota has a history of running the best, highest-turnout elections in America. Minnesotans have every reason to expect that the Nov. 3 elections in our state will run as safely, smoothly, and securely as always," Ellison said in a statement on Tuesday, prior to the Star Tribune's report. 

“Minnesotans can also expect that they will be able to vote without intimidation or interference. Minnesota and federal law are clear: it is strictly illegal to intimidate or interfere with voters," he added. “As Attorney General, I do not expect to have to enforce these laws. But I will not hesitate to enforce them to the fullest extent if necessary to protect Minnesotans’ right to vote.” 

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Meanwhile, Minnesota's U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald released a statement Wednesday saying Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela Munoz will lead location efforts to oversee the handling of complaints of election fraud and voting rights concerns. 

"Every citizen must be able to vote without interference or discrimination and to have that vote counted without it being stolen because of fraud," MacDonald said. "The Department of Justice will always act appropriately to protect the integrity of the election process.”

Anyone who experiences interference or intimidation in voting or attempting to vote is asked to call the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office at 877-600-VOTE. 

Ellison's website lists some voting-related actions that are illegal based on state and/or federal law. They include:

  • No one may prevent you from voting or registering to vote.
  • No one may force you to vote for or against someone.
  • No one may interfere with you when you go to vote.
  • Only voters are allowed within 100 feet of polling places, with limited exceptions. So-called “poll watchers” are not allowed within 100 feet of polling places.
  • No one may harass or intimidate you more than 100 feet from a polling place.
  • No one may interfere with you while you cast your ballot.
  • Challengers designated by political parties are allowed in polling places; however, they are subject to restrictions, and may not harass or intimidate you or attempt to influence voting in any manner.
  • Law enforcement may not interfere with your right to vote.
  • The president may not order agents of the federal government to polling places. Agents of the federal government may not interfere with your right to vote.
  • The president may not order the military to polling places. The military may not interfere with your right to vote.
  • Private armed forces are illegal in Minnesota and may not interfere with your right to vote. 

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