Two years ago, Omar Fateh beat long-time incumbent Jeff Hayden in an upset in the primary (and coasted to victory in the general — the real contest for a Minneapolis legislative seat is almost always in the primary). Here’s my post from two years ago; I endorsed Fateh. To quickly recap: Hayden had been in that seat for quite a while, had been implicated in a small scale financial scandal, and Fateh had done a terrific job organizing and door knocking.
This year, Fateh has an opponent:
(Cut for length.)
I’m going to be honest about this: this has been an extremely difficult post to write, and I’m feeling very conflicted, which is why it’s taken me so long to write this and get it up.
On one hand: I think Omar Fateh is doing a good job as a legislator. He’s walked the walk in a number of ways, including saying publicly right after the Locke shooting that this was “a break in and murder,” which is the sort of thing you tend to see people say when they’re candidates, not as legislators. There’s a ton of pressure on elected officials to say the conciliatory thing. When I asked about his responsiveness, I heard various stories from people who got genuinely helpful replies to e-mails to his office.
On the other hand: scandals. Some of the scandals really are not scandals. But I’m going to start by talking about the one that worries me.
Let me back up and talk first about a somewhat obscure bit of Minnesota election law. Under the law, if you were planning to vote in person but at the last minute you find that you are unable to go to the polls (because you had to have an emergency appendectomy, say, or tested positive for COVID), you can use what’s called “agent delivery.” You fill out the absentee ballot application and also a special form requesting an agent delivery and specifying that this person, who has to be someone you know, be the one to hand-carry a ballot to you. Your agent takes the forms to your election office, gets an absentee ballot for you plus the usual inner and outer envelopes, and brings them to you. You vote, sign, seal it all up. Then your agent (or someone else you designate) hand-delivers it back to the elections office.
Agent delivery is only available in the last week before the election (and on election day). It’s actually a really good illustration of just how committed Minnesota is to making it possible for people to vote despite obstacles (even when it’s cumbersome).
Your agent has to be someone you know. (The request for agent delivery includes the statement, “I certify that I have a pre-existing relationship with this person.”) One person can only serve as an agent for three people at most.
With regular absentee ballots, if you have someone carry it back to the elections office for you, as far as I can tell from the Secretary of State website, that person does not have to be a person you know, but as with agented ballots, they are only allowed to turn in three ballots in total.
So, okay. There is an ongoing FBI investigation into “election irregularities,” much of which isn’t public yet, but this much is: Muse Mohamed, who was a campaign volunteer for Omar Fateh and is also Omar Fateh’s brother-in-law (Omar Fateh is married to one of Muse Mohamed’s sisters), got charged with perjury for lying to a grand jury, tried, and found guilty of perjury in May. What we know, from this trial: Muse hand-delivered three ballots using the agent delivery process for people who did not know him, had not requested that he do this, and had not requested absentee ballots. Two of them testified under oath at his trial. One, Nasro Jama, had already voted. Nasro Jama testified under oath that she did not know Muse and definitely had not requested an absentee ballot given that she’d voted already. One of the others said he did not intend to vote in the election, had not requested a ballot, and didn’t know Muse Mohamed. Also, his name was misspelled on the application form and some other stuff that would not have happened if he’d filled it out and forgotten.
Muse was not charged with election fraud, but with perjury (because he’d testified to the grand jury that these three people had requested that he get ballots for them; their testimony, combined with evidence like the fact that Nasro Jama had voted, contradicted this pretty firmly.)
Also at the trial, there was testimony from a campaign volunteer, a high school friend of Muse Mohamed’s, who volunteered on election day itself:
Mustafa recalled arriving at the campaign office and seeing Muse. He expected to knock on doors or drive voters to the polls. Instead, he testified, he was led to a back room where people were putting together envelopes.
He said did not know the people in the room and does not remember their names. He testified that they gave him three envelopes to deliver to the city elections and voter services center, and that he did not know the three voters whose names were on the envelopes.
“I didn’t think I was doing anything illegal, obviously,” Mustafa said.
Fateh also testified before the Senate Ethics Committee, under oath, and I swear I read him saying he didn’t authorize any ballot fraud but at the moment I can’t seem to find the quote because all the articles are way more interested in his testimony about the Somali TV thing (which I’ll get to in a minute).
After the trial, the Minnesota Reformer ran an article saying that Fateh had made misleading statements to the DFL about his relationship with Muse: “He denied being related to Mohamed — his brother-in-law — saying Mohamed’s name is a common Somali name, said a DFL source with knowledge of the confrontation.”
Absentee voting increased dramatically in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, testified Jon Martin, the supervisor of election administration for the city of Minneapolis. Votes cast through the “agent delivery process” made up a small subset of those absentee ballots–about 500 of 84,000 total absentee votes cast in Minneapolis in August 2020.
That’s three or four times the number of votes that came in via the “agent delivery process” just a few months later for the November 2020 general election, Martin said: that is, the presidential election.
That’s 500 out of 84,000 for the whole city of Minneapolis — I don’t know what number of them were cast in SD62, where 20,692 total votes were cast in the State Senate primary on August 11th. The margin of victory was 1,969 votes. The disparity between August and November is weird. It’s definitely not explained by COVID rates. The 7-day average on August 11th was 668 cases; the 7-day average on November 3rd was 3,069 cases.
The Senate Ethics Committee looked at this, along with the Somali TV thing. Somali TV is a YouTube channel run by a nonprofit that does Somali-language streaming programming. They ran some ads for Fateh and he later tried to get them a $500,000 appropriation. However, he had paid for the ad time and produced receipts. He’d paid through a personal account rather than a campaign account. This one honestly does not worry me much. I would absolutely make this sort of mistake if I ever ran for office.
The Senate Ethics Committee subpoenaed Dawson Kimyon, Omar Fateh’s former campaign manager (and his legislative aide until May of this year). Dawson had been implicated not at the trial itself, but in some of the testimony previously given by Muse Mohamed:
Worth noting: this was from testimony Muse gave and was later charged for perjury over. Anyway. Dawson took the fifth last week. Which — probably smart! There are a lot of ways to fuck yourself over testifying under oath — the one trial that’s happened over whatever the hell was going on in 2020 was a perjury trial! (Senator Bobby Joe Champion, who’s on the ethics committee, basically acknowledged that if Dawson was his client, he’d sure as hell tell him to take the fifth.)
The Senate Ethics Committee dismissed the complaints about Fateh related to the ballots and ordered him to get remedial campaign finance training so he won’t screw up accounts again, and one of the Republicans on the committee, Senator David Osmek, said “There was a lot of smoke, but no fire. I’ve got to have fire.”
I don’t know exactly what the standard of proof is used by the Senate Ethics Committee but I will say, if Omar Fateh were on trial for something here, and I were on the jury, I would not convict him. But the question here is not, is he guilty of a crime; it’s should people vote for him.
There are people I respect who believe emphatically that the answer is yes. Former Park Board Commissioner Chris Meyer, who recently started working for Fateh, got in touch with me last week, to make a case for Fateh and also for Dawson. Dawson was Chris’s campaign manager as well, and Chris said, quote, “I would trust Dawson with my life and I am absolutely certain he did not conduct or direct voter fraud.” Several people have said some version of, look, if they dug hard enough they could make literally anyone look shady. (I don’t even know where to start trying to evaluate that. I e-mailed a friend, didn’t hear back, thought about e-mailing most people, but….I need to get this up.)
There are also people I respect who believe emphatically that Fateh committed vote fraud — that there is just no way that this could have been happening in his campaign without him knowing.
So, given all this:
I would vote for Shaun Laden. This is a primary, the choice is between two Democrats, and Shaun Laden seems to be a genuinely decent guy. He’s a union organizer and was the head of the union representing EAs and other education support professionals during the strike last spring, during which he managed to get a frequently overlooked group a significant raise. I’m not sure I’ve heard of any other strikes where the education support professionals struck simultaneously and linked themselves to the teachers — the fact that this worked is genuinely a credit to the leadership, which is to say, Shaun.
(I’m realizing that there are two additional Omar Fateh scandals I didn’t get to above, so just to quickly talk about them: he also got donations from several of the people who were scamming the government out of money via Feeding our Future — Sahan Journal’s excellent coverage of that whole clusterfuck is here. As far as I could find, Fateh’s only connection to the fraud was that some of the people committing it donated money to him; Fateh returned the donations. That’s Fateh being scandal-adjacent, IMO, that’s not a scandal for Fateh. Also, apparently, he got free rent for his campaign HQ from an organization called Open Arms adult day center and didn’t report it. That may go back to the Senate Ethics Committee. I’m not sure how big a deal that is.)
Finally, since I had to talk about vote fraud in this post, let me talk about it a little more. One of the things about vote fraud is that while it happens occasionally, it’s a hell of a lot of work and risk to commit. So when we say it’s not a real problem, part of what we’re saying is, when it happens, mostly it results in a couple of people getting in huge trouble and it doesn’t change the results.
And that seems to have happened here. One of the reasons that voter fraud is not considered to be a particularly large problem is that it’s extremely labor intensive and for the work you’d put in to cheat, you could get more benefit for less risk just campaigning. Can you imagine recruiting enough volunteers to hand-deliver ballots three ballots each and have that make a potential dent in the results? And using those volunteers to do that, them to do that, rather than sending them to knock doors, offer rides, help people vote legitimately? What a waste, both of effort and legitimacy. And the total number of agented ballots citywide was around 500, some of those were definitely legitimate, and the actual margin of victory was almost 2,000. Whatever happened, I think we can be pretty damn sure that it changed nothing.
I would vote for Shaun Laden if I lived in Senate District 62.
In addition to writing political commentary, I write science fiction and fantasy. My book that came out in April 2021, Chaos on CatNet, takes place in a future Minneapolis. It’s a sequel to Catfishing on CatNet and signed copies of both books are usually available from Dreamhaven. You will also be able to get them from Uncle Hugo’s when it reopens at 2716 E 31st St! (and maybe by mail order now? I’m not sure how much mail order Don is doing while getting ready to re-open.)
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