Last week, the Gold Star Mothers of Minnesota brought to light a disturbing situation; Secretary of State Mark Ritchie using state resources to actively campaign against the Voter ID amendment. But it wasn’t just an isolated incident, Sec Ritchie also used his office to make false claims about military voters being prevented from voting to another group- The Minnesota Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The Minnesota VFW puts out a quarterly newsletter called the Gopher Oversea’r. Mailed out in a newspaper format, it includes messages from the state commander and ladies auxiliary president, news and events around the state of interest to veterans, and a short OpEd section with letters and commentary. The last issue included a commentary from SecState Ritchie that was so outrageous and over the top, it drew a firestorm of criticism from VFW members around the state. In response, the editor of the newsletter sent an email to all VFW post commanders and officers that included an apology as well as several letters representative of the angry response. This email was important because the next issue of the Gopher Oversea’r will not be published until after the election.
SecState Ritchie’s column made the outrageous claim that the Voter ID amendment would prohibit Minnesota military voters from casting ballots in an election. His claim is bogus, as I demonstrated yesterday. But Secretary Ritchie doesn’t just make his claim and run, he covers himself in patriotism in an appeal to the members of the VFW, and then tries to scare them into voting against the amendment in the name of the current generation of troops serving overseas.
After opening with lip service to veterans and fond memories of the 4th of July, SecState Ritchie dives right in-
“On November 6, Minnesotans are going to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that will create new barriers to voting for citizens from all walks of life—including our military voters. The proposed amendment states that all absentee voters, “must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted.” This requirement would mean that voters who are casting ballots overseas or away from home would be required to verify their identity in the same way as a voter who votes in person and presents their photo identification to an election judge. Proving their identity in this way will be nearly impossible for those who may be serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.” -(Underlining mine)
As I mentioned yesterday, there is absolutely no requirement in the Photo ID amendment that will not be satisfied by a Military ID. Those serving in uniform today are required to have their ID’s with them at all times, and they are required for such simple things as checking your email, entering any base in the world, or making a purchase at the PX/BX (post exchange/base exchange). If you lose or damage your ID, you can get a new one within a day or two at most. So the claim that proving your identity in the military for an absentee ballot will be ‘nearly impossible’ is simply ludicrous. I want to give SecState Ritchie the benefit of the doubt here, but I cannot see how he is not knowingly making a false claim.
SecState Ritchie goes on to say of the amendment-
“In addition, it would require all voters to provide proof of their current Minnesota address. Those on active duty are unlikely to have this type of documentation accessible to them. Both of these new requirements will make it harder for military and overseas voters to exercise their right to vote.”
Again, this is factually incorrect. There is no requirement in the ballot language or the proposed change to the Minnesota constitution that would require an address to be on the Photo ID. But even if it did, as I showed yesterday, there are literally dozens of legal records in the military that require a servicemember to document their legal address. Any one of these would satisfy the strictest requirement from the SecState’s office on proving your address for voting. And any one of these records is available to a servicemember anytime they choose. Elections are a fixed date in time, so servicemembers will literally have months to ensure they have the necessary documents.
So what was the response to SecState Ritchie’s fabrications in a non-partisan VFW newsletter? True to form of combat veterans, it was the most polite form of frustrated anger you will hear. Here are excerpts from letters to the editor that will be printed in the next issue;
“While the quote he used was the actually language of the amendment the interpretation is entirely his own. Unfortunately this is also the person that will be implementing the law. HE can make it difficult on the military if he wants to but the intent of the law is a simple process for our military.”
“I actually felt the anger inside me build as I read through the article and the half-truths and misrepresentations that continued to pour off the page.”
“While it may be the intention of the Secretary to limit our military from voting, the amendment has nothing to do with our servicemen and women.” -(Underlining in the original)
“As the Secretary tries and wrap himself in the flag and the Fourth of July throughout the article to impress us he also misleads us and attempts to scare us into voting against the amendment for partisan reasons.”
“I for one would much rather have honest and accurate elections even if I miss the news cycle. It is disappointing our Secretary of state does not have the same concerns is it not?”
“In the article MR Ritchie is playing the fear game the same as VP Biden did when he stated that Wall Street wants to ‘put you’ll back in chains’.”
“…to put it bluntly it is an endorsement of MR. Ritchie’s fight for the allowing illegal votes.”
“Secretary Ritchie is using his position to cast doubt in people’s minds as to the validity of the voter ID amendment, which is shameful. He also timed his editorial so that there can be no response in this paper prior to the November election, also shameful. I hope the scare tactics fail, as he has done a disservice to veterans and current service members with this editorial.”
The quotes above are only the tip of the iceberg. These are from the few letters included in the retraction/apology email from the editor of the Gopher Oversea’r. Many more letters have been received (along with phone calls) and many of them will be printed in the next edition of the newsletter, which unfortunately will not be published until well the voters make their choice on the Voter ID amendment.
I have contacted the editor of the newsletter, Mr Hasselgrave, to determine how he received the Secretary’s remarks. If, similar to the Gold Star Mothers, the Secretary used official letterhead or his government email to communicate, than I think members of the legislature need to seriously consider whether an investigation needs to be opened into the Secretary’s conduct.
Much like the Gold Star Mothers, the VFW does not and cannot take partisan positions. We advocate for or against specific policies related to veterans and national defense, but stay out of party politics. So, many VFW members were shocked simply by the fact that the newsletter would print a one sided piece by SecState Ritchie, without giving the other side for comparison. The national VFW magazine regularly prints opinions from top political figures, but makes sure to give both pro and anti on any particular issue. SecState Ritchie’s column had no such opposing view, nor did it have a disclaimer that the views expressed do not represent the views of the editor or the VFW state leadership.
But in defense of the newsletter editor, it seems incredible that the Secretary of State would even ask nonpartisan groups like the VFW and the Gold Star Mothers to promote his obviously partisan agenda. He owes us an apology.
Note-the full email from the Gopher Oversea'r editor is available on the MN VFW Facebook page. It contains the editor's message, the full commentary piece from SecState Ritchie, as well as the letters to the editor I quoted from above. If you do not have a Facebook account but would like to read the full email, please leave me a message in the comments and I will send it to you.