DFL voters signed up to serve as delegates in April using an online form. Credit: Minneapolis DFL Website

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Three DFL leaders have challenged the party’s online endorsement process, calling the virtual caucus discriminatory and “fatally flawed.”

Former Minneapolis City Council members Tony Scallon and Lisa McDonald, and DFL party activist Ken Vreeland claimed in a letter sent Tuesday that the online process has led to “disenfranchisement of thousands of voters, fraudulent registrations, and preferential treatment of campaigns.” The group said the process eliminated up to 4,500 registrants—including the elderly, people of color, immigrants, and people with disabilities. 

“The process is so broken that it must be stopped and either completely revamped or abandoned for this election cycle,” the letter says. They plan to pursue legal action if the caucus isn’t canceled.

Minneapolis DFL Chair Devin Hogan responded that the allegations were not true. The 4,500 registrations came out of a process to eliminate duplicate online forms. Instead, Hogan said that constant allegations against the validity of people’s participation are discriminatory.

“This is the most participation we’ve ever had in a caucus,” Hogan said. “I fail to see how that is discriminatory.”

In Ward 2, an unusual case amplified concerns about the virtual process. City Council candidate Tom Anderson alleged the campaign of his opponent, Yusra Arab, fraudulently registered delegates. Some of Yusra’s supporters had received emails, seemingly from the DFL, explaining that there were mistakes on the delegate list, and that the email was seeking confirmation about their registration for the convention. 

Yusra called the claims from Anderson voter intimidation, particularly towards East Africans. 

The Anderson campaign told Sahan Journal that the email did not target East Africans. Instead, it highlighted irregularities the campaign claims to have found in DFL data. 

While they had expressed similar concerns, Scallon said that the letter he and the two others submitted does not have anything to do with the Ward 2 race. 

“The last thing we want to be involved in is telling a whole group of people they can’t vote—quite the opposite,” Scallon said. 

Hogan said he’s not concerned about allegations of fraud and discrimination expressed in the letter because the numbers don’t show any glaring issues.

According to Hogan, the party received about 13,000 total registrations. Because people can fill out the online form multiple times, it narrowed down the pool to 10,400 unique individuals, 8,700 of whom were confirmed as caucus attendees. Hogan added that campaigns had the opportunity to audit the data and report any missed issues. 

“People want to participate,” Hogan said. “And they’re constantly met with this barrage of lies about how their votes are fraud, or invalid—or, somehow, that their participation is bad.”

DFL voters signed up to serve as delegates in April using an online form. 

Delegates started voting on Tuesday and will cast their votes until June 8. In the city’s first virtual endorsement convention, delegates will vote for candidates seeking official backing from the DFL in November’s city election. Candidates must secure 60 percent of the votes for an endorsement.

Caucuses are typically held in person. Eligible voters can become delegates to the convention, attend the caucus, and vote to endorse a candidate. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the DFL moved the process online. Voters first registered online. They were then required to respond to a postcard sent to their home address or submit a photo of a piece of mail confirming their name and address.

Hogan said the Minneapolis DFL had been planning the virtual process since October. Every campaign was invited to create and approve the rules of a new online caucus.

But the letter characterized the online process as chaotic, with some people not receiving postcards to confirm their address, for example. In Ward 9, the letter said 60 East African people were unable to navigate the process. Some City Council candidates also had trouble registering to become delegates. The three DFL leaders also said they found examples of fraud: multiple registrants using the same email address, wrong address, and people registered without their knowledge. 

“It would be almost impossible to make participation more difficult and dysfunctional,” Scallon said in the letter, “especially for folks who don’t have computers or computer skills, who have low English-language skills, unstable housing or certain physical handicaps. That was definitely the case for many seniors.”

Hogan said caucus information was available in four languages: English, Spanish, Hmong, and Somali. He said the party also is seeing high participation from the elderly. At least four voters who are blind also got the opportunity to participate remotely.

Jamal Osman, the Minneapolis City Council member in Ward 6, was part of an effort in February to keep the caucus from occurring online. At the time, he said residents in his ward did not have the resources to participate online. Still, he encouraged residents of Ward 6 to participate in the virtual caucus. 

“The process was not easy for our residents here,” Jamal said. “But this is the only option we were given, and we’re trying to do everything we can to encourage our residents to participate.”

Jamal added that he does not see the point of conducting the caucus over again.

Since the DFL decided to move the caucus online, Scallon and Vreeland said they both filed multiple complaints about the virtual caucus to no avail. 

Vreeland said the virtual caucus is flawed and not necessary. Despite the fact that he strongly supports caucusing to select a party candidate, he said that he would rather shift to a primary system if the caucus continues to be held online.

If the caucus isn’t canceled, the three plan on pursuing legal action against the Minneapolis DFL Party. 

“City elections are in November,” Scallon said. “We have plenty of time to clean up this mess.”

Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.