After a self-identified noncitizen told the Minnesota state legislators, “We are voting,” the state’s top election official insisted that noncitizen voting isn’t a problem.

“Our office has no indication that noncitizen voting is a problem in Minnesota or nationally,” Cassondra Knudson, deputy communications director for Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, told The Daily Signal in an email Monday.

Simon, a Democrat, asked the Minnesota Legislature to pass bills this year to provide for automatic voter registration, to restore voting rights to felons, and to preregister 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. 

“Between 2018 and 2021, only 62 adults were convicted of voting-related crimes in Minnesota, including voting while ineligible, registering while ineligible, or registering with the intent to vote in more than one precinct, according to the Minnesota judicial branch,” Knudson told The Daily Signal.

She noted that the state has 3.5 million registered voters

At a Jan. 10 hearing held by the Minnesota House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, a young woman named Angelico Bello was among numerous speakers on a bill to grant state driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. 

“I’m a proud product of my mom. I’m also a DACA recipient,” Bello told the committee, referring to the federal program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. “As a DACA recipient, it has also been hard to have family members without a driver’s license.”

President Barack Obama issued the rule creating Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012 to shield from deportation those brought unlawfully to the U.S. as children. 

Bello went on to issue a warning to the Minnesota lawmakers during the hearing. 

“Know that you are all in these chairs because of us. We are voting. Our people are voting,” Bello said. “If you don’t pass this bill, people are going to vote you all out.” 

Bello also said members of her generation will take the seats of the legislators. 

“Pass this bill now. Because our community is going to keep fighting and we are not going to leave,” Bello said, adding:

We are going to stay here. We are going to continue to stay here. Little do you all know that we are the generation that is coming that is going to be taking up your seats. So please be of service, or else we are going to come take your seats as well.

The Daily Signal followed up with Knudson, the spokesperson for Minnesota’s secretary of state, asking whether Bello is registered to vote in the state. 

“There is a law regarding accessing voter registration information in Minnesota,” Kundson said in an email. “Part of this law requires information only be provided to Minnesota residents. Another part requires the information only be used for political, elections, or law enforcement purposes.”

Minnesota state Rep. Walter Hudson, a Republican, said Bello’s testimony was talked about in the halls of the state Capitol. Hudson asserted that noncitizen voting is a problem in Minnesota. 

“She’s saying the quiet part out loud,” Hudson told The Daily Signal of Bello. “Noncitizens voting has definitely been a known issue. As much as the Democrats and secretary of state, the governing majority here, pooh-pooh and downplay it, we know that our election system is extraordinarily vulnerable to fraudulent activity because there is just no accounting for it.”

Hudson continued: 

Their go-to, topline response to criticism of the election system is, ‘Well, there is no evidence of fraud.’ Some people would certainly argue with that. Even if you take that for granted, the counter would be that you haven’t provided a system that would leave any evidence behind that someone is acting fraudulently. 

… It’s a known problem. But that’s the point. They don’t care. That’s what they want. They’ve got a political operation on their side that knows how to take advantage of all these vulnerabilities. 

Bello’s comments were mischaracterized, said Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, a watchdog and advocacy group, who attended the hearing. Belladonna-Carrera noted that many state residents testified in favor of the driver’s license bill. 

“To anyone who was listening to the various testifiers, it was reasonably clear that the ‘we’ the testifier was referencing was the broader Latinx Minnesota communities who are allies in the movement to move driver’s license for all,” Belladonna-Carrera told The Daily Signal. 

Belladonna-Carrera, who previously was legislative director for a government agency called the Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs, said she doubts that Hudson simply misunderstood Bello. 

“His actions only work to stymie future public engagement on issues that Minnesotans care about for fear of having their testimony weaponized by [elected officials] who are supposed to be there to listen with an open mind,” Belladonna-Carrera said. 

Knudson, with the secretary of state’s office, said the statewide voter registration system includes checks to ensure that registered voters are 18 or older and have lived in Minnesota for at least 20 days before an election.  

“To receive a ballot, a voter must be registered within that system,” Knudson said. “All voters must sign an oath indicating that they are a U.S. citizen and otherwise eligible to vote. If someone was found to have lied about citizenship, they could face deportation, denial of future citizenship, fines, and/or imprisonment under federal law.”

The Minnesota Legislature, controlled by Democrats, is unlikely to investigate the matter. Hudson, however, said it’s possible that the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor could review noncitizen voting in the state. 

“The problem is that once ballots are cast here, there is no paper trail,” Hudson said. “So there is no way to know that this ballot was cast by this person or even know that it came from this precinct. It’s so loosey-goosey that I don’t know how an investigator or auditor would go about trying to discern whether or not fraudulent activity is taking place, and that is the problem.” 

DACA beneficiaries pose one of the bigger dilemmas in immigration policy, said Kim Crockett, an election lawyer who was Minnesota’s Republican candidate last year for secretary of state. 

But this matter stands apart from immigration policy because Bello seemed to boldly claim that she and other noncitizens “will use their voting power to punish lawmakers,” Crockett said.

“We have these laws and it is absolutely critical that we enforce them, particularly in the election space,” Crockett told The Daily Signal. 

In 2018, the Office of Legislative Auditor issued a report evaluating the statewide voter registration system and possible illegal voting in the state. 

“Minnesota allows voters to register on Election Day, which provides access to voting but may also allow ineligible persons to register and vote,” the agency’s report said

It said two years of county attorney reports found most allegations of ineligible voting “were unfounded, but the reports may be an unreliable source.”

“State law defines intentionally registering to vote while ineligible or knowingly voting while ineligible as felony offenses,” the 2018 report said. “But most charges for these offenses did not result in a conviction, and most sentences were not at the felony level.”

The report from the Office of Legislative Auditor recommends that county election officials use the statewide voter registration system to check for illegal voters. 

“The Secretary of State’s Office, in consultation with county election officials, should consider developing a report that would help county staff identify people who have not voted for several years and re-register to vote when they are not eligible,” the report says. 

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