How Becker County election results somehow ended up in a Trump campaign lawsuit

Detroit in Michigan and Detroit in Minnesota were confused so repeatedly that the Minnesota town changed its name to Detroit Lakes early in the last century.

A voter receives his ballot from an election official during the 2020 election in Detroit Lakes. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

The good news is that Minnesota’s election ran pleasantly well earlier this month: Turnout was the best in the nation, there was no Election Day unrest, no shortage of trained election judges, and no shortage of masks and disinfectant at polling places, according to Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon.

The bad news is that, in spite of all that, 25 Becker County precincts (along with 19 other precincts in Minnesota) were mistakenly sucked into a lawsuit from President Donald Trump's legal team targeting the vote count in other states.

As part of what appears to be a larger effort by the Trump team to show that the number of votes was suspiciously high for the estimated voter turnout in Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin, an affidavit mistakenly used election results from Becker County precincts, including Detroit Lakes.

The results were misidentified as being from precincts in the Detroit, Mich., area.

That’s how an affidavit claiming a suspiciously high 100% turnout in precincts including Spruce Grove Township, Runeberg Township, Richwood Township, Lake Eunice Township, Cormorant Township, and city precincts in Frazee, Detroit Lakes, Ogema and Audubon came to be included in a Trump campaign lawsuit in Georgia.


The mistake apparently originated in an affidavit from a Texas security consultant named Russ Ramsland, who made his case on Lou Dobbs’s Fox Business Network show Nov. 17.

It’s not too much of a stretch to see how such an error could be made -- Detroit in Michigan and Detroit in Minnesota were confused so repeatedly that the Minnesota town changed its name to Detroit Lakes early in the last century. And the post office abbreviations are MI for Michigan and MN for Minnesota. That could be confusing for somebody from Texas. Other precincts from elsewhere in Minnesota were also included in the court filing.

Mixing up Michigan and Minnesota was a “simple mistake” and the document will be “corrected,” a Trump campaign lawyer told the fact-checking website PolitiFact.

Considering the damning allegations of vote fraud being made by the president and members of his legal team, there hasn’t been much in the way of serious evidence presented by the Trump legal team, Simon said. “For these allegations of misconduct, at some point you need evidence, not just hunches, guesses and bad vibes -- that’s not enough to overturn the results of an election. Hunches, guesses and bad vibes won’t get you very far in court.”

The elections this year were a big challenge for state and local election officials, and ended up being a source of pride for Minnesota, “especially this year, a presidential election year in the middle of a pandemic,” Simon said. In Minnesota, the elections were run with competence and integrity, he said.

“This is the third time in a row Minnesota has been No. 1 in voter turnout -- in 2016, 2018 and now 2020,” Simon said. The General Election was just short of 80% turnout, he said. That’s the best turnout since 1956, when President Eisenhower was re-elected.

“County and city election administrators should be proud,” Simon said. ”They did a terrific job under really challenging conditions.”

Becker County vote count was accurate

More good news is that the vote counts in those Becker County precincts named in the Trump lawsuit were found to be accurate.


In Spruce Grove Township, for example, there were 211 registered voters at 7 a.m. on Election Day, and 209 votes were cast in the presidential race -- 177 votes for Trump and 32 votes for Joe Biden. That’s certainly nothing the Trump campaign would object to.

But it was not quite 100% turnout claimed in the affidavit, especially considering that there is same-day registration in Minnesota, which would account for any vote percentage over 100%, Simon said.

In Minnesota, a high-turnout state in a major election, 100% turnout “is not a red flag,” Simon said.

Same story in Frazee, where over 75% of the presidential vote went to Trump-Pence. The precinct showed 689 registered voters to start Election Day, and the total presidential vote was 600 -- far from the 100% turnout claimed in the affidavit.

In Detroit Lakes Ward 3, there were 2,244 registered voters to start the day, and 2,057 votes ended up being cast in the presidential race. Again, nowhere near 100% turnout. And Trump beat Biden 1,204 votes to 798 votes (with the rest scattered among seven other candidates and write-ins) in that precinct.

The overall turnout in Becker County was about 82%, including 1,968 people who registered on Election Day, said Becker County Auditor-Treasurer Mary Hendrickson.

“We did have a tremendous turnout -- we were busy the whole 46 days,” she said. (Early voting started Sept. 18). “The public really got involved and got interested, and the more people involved, the better it is,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without my fabulous staff.”

Simon said Minnesota ran “an extraordinarily secure and accurate election -- I know of no serious allegations of wrongdoing by voters or election administrators.”


Minnesota will certify statewide results Tuesday

All 87 counties have now certified their local election results, and the state is expected to certify the Minnesota results at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Michigan certified its results Monday, on a 3-0 vote of the four-member state certification board, made up of two Republicans and two Democrats. There were concerns about politicization of that board, as shown by the one Republican who didn’t vote, but that’s not an issue in Minnesota, which designed its system to minimize political interference, Simon said.

The Minnesota state certification board consists of two state Supreme Court justices, two district judges, and the secretary of state, he said.

Even the Becker County certification board is designed to avoid partisan politics. Hendrickson said the board consists of a county commissioner, the mayor of the largest city, the district court administrator, and the auditor-treasurer.

The certification board drew at random two precincts for post-election review (this year it was Carsonville Township and the city of Lake Park) and that process was overseen by one Republican and one Democrat representative, she said. Five people watched. There were no significant changes in the count.

Keep the faith, baby

The fact that so many people participated in the election shows that Minesotans have not lost faith in the process, Simon said.

“We wouldn’t have almost 80% voter turnout unless people understood our system is fundamentally honest. People in Minnesota know it’s an honest system because it’s a decentralized system.” There are some 3,000 polling sites around the state, and all are counted locally by trusted residents. “We (the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office ) never touch the ballots,” he said.


becker precincts.png
The first part of a list of 25 Becker County precincts mistakenly included in a Trump campaign lawsuit in Georgia. The Minnesota precincts, which included several in Detroit Lakes, were apparently intended as evidence in a similar lawsuit to be filed in Michigan. It's not clear where the 100% turnout figures came from, since they don't match the actual turnout percentages in those precincts.

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