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'We can overcome this': Minnesotans call for voting reforms one year after Capitol riots

Dozens gathered at the state Capitol on Thursday night, despite the extreme cold, to remember the insurrection and to press for changes in state and federal voting laws.

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Voting rights advocates spelled out "Defend Democracy" outside the Minnesota Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, the first anniversary of the riots at the U.S Capitol.
Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — One year after hundreds of rioters descended on the U.S. Capitol resulting in dozens of injuries and five deaths, Democratic lawmakers and voting rights groups rallied at the Minnesota Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 6, to remember the insurrection and to press for the passage of voting rights legislation at the state and federal level.

Dozens gathered outside the state Capitol in spite of the subzero temperatures bundled in parkas, hats and scarves and they hoisted signs that read, "Defend Democracy" and "lies mask the facts" and they sang songs with the lyrics like, "this voting right of mine, I'm going to let it shine."

"If we can fight against frostbite, we can fight against those who are trying to corrode and undermine democracy," Secretary of State Steve Simon said, as the crowds cheered over their shivers. "We can overcome this. We have before, we will again."

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Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon spoke to dozens of voting rights advocates at the State Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, as they marked the one-year anniversary of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

Just a year before, former President Donald Trump's supporters in Minnesota took to the state Capitol steps to rally against then-President-elect Joe Biden's election and they cheered as their friends relayed by phone what was going on at the U.S. Capitol.

“We recognize that voting is the bare bones of democracy and that is why we have come here today to say that what happened this day last year will never stand in Minnesota,” Minister JaNaé Bates told the crowd Thursday. “Instead, it will be people like you fighting to ensure that we have what we need and that we do it with multiracial democracy.”

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Democrats in speeches and statements harkened back to their memories of the insurrection and urged Republicans to vow to break ties with Trump and those who falsely alleged that the 2020 election was invalid. Republicans, for the most part, said the remembrances around the riots were motivated in pulling attention away from current events.

Earlier in the day, Democratic members of Congress who witnessed the riots said the memories were still clear in their minds and they, along with others urged Americans to fight against misinformation and to forge together as a united country.

“Today marks a somber anniversary of one of the darkest days in our country’s history," Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democrat representing the state's 3rd Congressional District, said in a statement. "Future generations can never forget the actions that took place in the U.S. Capitol one year ago and the bravery required to preserve our democracy."

Other lawmakers, meanwhile, took a tougher tack and called for repercussions for those who'd stormed the Capitol and those who'd inspired them to converge on it. And they pointed to Trump as a key instigator.

"There's no getting around what happened," U.S. Sen. Tina Smith said. "On Jan. 6, there was a violent attack on the United States, led by insurrectionists whose goal was to overthrow the free and fair election of President Biden. This happened because Donald Trump incited them to violence."

Democrats in the state's delegation voted to certify the results of the 2020 election last January, along with Republican Reps. Tom Emmer and Pete Stauber. Republican U.S. Reps. Jim Hagedorn and Michelle Fischbach voted against the certification of the results, hours after the Capitol was ransacked.

The four Minnesota Republicans later voted against Trump's impeachment.

Emmer on Thursday was the only GOP member of the state's delegation to acknowledge the anniversary of the Capitol riots. In a statement, he said the attacks were an "unacceptable display of violence that runs counter to everything we stand for as a country."

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"Those responsible for the violence must continue to be held accountable, and Congress must focus on providing our men and women in law enforcement around the Capitol — and across the nation — with the resources, training, and support they need to ensure something like this never happens again," Emmer said.

Minnesota Republican Party Chairman David Hann on Thursday said that Democrats were using "false and disingenuous language to accuse Republicans of encouraging violence."

"It is a sad example of the DFL trying to distract the public from the abject failures in governance by Democrats under President Biden in D.C. and Gov. Tim Walz here in Minnesota," Hann said in a news release.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com

Related Topics: MINNESOTA
Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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