Election Security Extends Beyond Polling Places

Mount Zion Temple isn’t used to being a polling location for Ramsey County Elections, and doing so in a pandemic with turnout expected to be higher than ever in Minnesota in a building that is technically closed is a whole other challenge.

But having successfully navigated in-person voting in August’s primary election, Mount Zion executive director Larry Solomon is ready to welcome voters again.

“I’m not overly concerned,” he said. “We had no issues in the primary. People want to come, vote, and leave. We’re very excited to be a polling place. We’re doing a community service. Being a site is an important message to the community.”

However, election security goes beyond making sure polling places are kept safe. When it comes to the election night at the Twin Cities Jewish community, the Jewish Community Relations Council is positioning itself to gather information and intelligence to distribute as needed to keep people aware of what’s going on.

“All plans, sometimes the simpler they are, the more effective they are,” said Dan Plekkenpol, the director of community security for the JCRC. “We want to be very careful, very mindful on what we’re putting out to the community, that it’s accurate, and it’s true information. So part of it is getting the information. And the other part of it is, is basically running through the colander to see what information is going to be necessary just for our community.”

Plekkenpol said that Mount Zion and Temple of Aaron, the other Jewish community building that is a polling location, have been working with the election judges, who run the show at those – and every other –polling site on Election Day. The JCRC isn’t part of any on-site security, and Solomon said that the chief election judge at the site will make the call if anything sketchy is happening.

“The election judges have been trained about making that call,” Solomon said. “There is a chief judge is the same as during the primary and she is tough and follows the letter of the law. I’m not especially worried.”

Secretary of State Steve Simon said that voters who choose to vote in-person on Election Day have nothing to worry to about.

“I can’t speak for any other state. But I can tell you that Minnesota’s law is very specific, and contains some real limitations,” when it comes to ‘poll-watchers,’ Simon said. In Minnesota, every major political party gets a maximum of one person that they can designate in writing, at a polling place. Minnesota law also says they cannot come within six feet of a voter or talk to a voter. “If they make a challenge to a voter’s eligibility, it can only be in writing. And here’s the key part: based on personal knowledge.”

For example, he said, if a poll watcher challenged a voter because he knows their family and knows they are not of voting age, it would be acceptable.

“What isn’t fine, is to pick a challenge based on a hunch, or a whim or a guess, or a bad feeling or a question,” he said. “It’s not okay to say, ‘I just don’t get a good feeling about her’ or ‘I heard that guy speaking a language other than English in the hallway. I don’t think he’s a citizen.’ Not enough. That will be rejected on its face, because it’s not based on personal knowledge.”

Simon also said that the rules against voter intimidation in Minnesota are also very clear.

“No one who’s not supposed to be there can be within 100 feet of the entrance of a polling place,” he said. “So anyone who thinks that on election day in Minnesota, they’re going to show up and help law enforcement or support law enforcement or supplement law enforcement, they don’t want or need your supplementation or help.”

Even if, Simon said, someone had an automatic weapon slung over their shoulder at 101 feet from the polling place entrance, the laws there are clear as well.

“We have really strong laws, state and federal, against voter intimidation,” he said. “And I know that the Chiefs of Police, sheriffs, and others are on guard for that possibility.”

Solomon said that there are Mount Zion members who are acting as ushers to help guide people from the entrance to Margolis Hall where the voting is taking place, which Plekkenpol said is fine as long as they aren’t in the polling area.

“It doesn’t mean that they can’t be somebody else in the building itself. And they really should, because you need a representative in the building to talk and communicate with the election judge in case they have any needs, even just for their facility,” he said. “So on any normal election cycle or election cycle that wasn’t had the potential for civil unrest, it would still probably have the same type of situation with the need was to have someone else in the building to help out with the election judge and the physical site itself.”

With the civil unrest that Plekkenpol mentioned, he said that at this point there is no intelligence that points to any direct threat to the Jewish community specifically.

“But there is intelligence and even tropes that have been talked about that the Jewish community and Jews are responsible for the election or trying to control the election,” he said. “Whether or not those particular tropes evolve into civil unrest or push towards the Jewish community is a whole other situation.”

Said Solomon: “Hopefully it’ll be like Y2K: People think the world is going to end and it was fine.”

Election Day Resources

SOS Elections & Voting homepage

How the election will work in 2020
Early voting/drop-off locations by county
View sample ballot
Find your polling place to vote on Election Day
Help available on Election Day including curbside voting
Get a free ride to your polling place from the MN Vote Mobile
What to do if you see someone intimidating voters, engaging in poll watching, or ‘Challengers’ who are not following protocol
See a long line at the polls?  Pizza to the Polls will bring those waiting some free food!
MN Governors pro-voting video