With a recount mandated by the razor-thin margin in the Senate race in Minnesota between Norm Coleman and Al Franken, and its national implications, understanding the process is critical.  Fortunately, Minnesota has prepared itself well in two ways for this task.  First, we use optical-scan ballots that render most of the usual issues in recounts moot, and we combine that with a rather straightforward process.  Flash at Centrisity, one of our excellent moderate local bloggers, covers the statutes involved.

I have the text below for those who want to peruse it all the way through, but essentially it establishes a few principles:

  • Each precinct is recounted independently.
  • The recount official in each precinct determines whether to use hand recounts or machine recounts.
  • The rules for establishing voter intent on questionable ballots are pretty clear cut.

This starts with the use of the optical-scan ballots.  Voters have to fill in a bubble to select a candidate, which eliminates the potential problems with punch cards that we saw in Florida in 2000.  Furthermore, the ballots get scanned when the voter submits it.  If the ballot cannot be read properly, the scanner rejects it immediately, giving the voter another opportunity to correct their ballot.  It won’t catch everything, but it does provide a good preventive measure.

I’m reasonably confident that Minnesota will avoid the kind of nonsense we saw in Florida eight years ago.  And while both parties will airdrop lawyers into Minnesota over the next few weeks, they probably won’t have much to do, other than boost the local restaurant and hotel business.  I’ll be discussing this on the Hugh Hewitt Show tonight, so be sure to tune in!

8235.0800 COUNTING AND CHALLENGING BALLOTS.
Ballots must be recounted by precinct. The recount official shall open the sealed envelope of ballots and recount them in accordance with Minnesota Statutes, section 204C.22. If a candidate or candidate’s representative disagrees with the recount official’s determination of whether and for whom the ballot should be counted, the ballot may be challenged. At a recount of a ballot question, the manner in which a ballot is counted may be challenged by the person who requested the recount or that person’s representative. Challenges may not be automatic or frivolous and the challenger must state the basis for the challenge. The precinct name, the reason for the challenge, and the name of the person challenging the ballot must be marked on the back of each challenged ballot before it is placed in an envelope marked “Challenged Ballots.” After the count of votes for the precinct has been determined, all ballots except the challenged ballots must be resealed in the ballot envelopes and returned with the other election materials to the custodian of the ballots. After the count of votes for all precincts has been determined, the challenged ballot envelope must be sealed and kept secure for presentation to the canvassing board.

8235.1000 ELECTRONIC VOTING SYSTEMS.
In precincts in an election jurisdiction where an electronic voting system is used, the recount official shall determine if the ballots are to be recounted on the electronic voting system or manually. If the ballots are recounted on the electronic voting system, a test of the program and the voting system must be made immediately prior to the recount, and a test sample of the ballots must also be counted manually. Unless the jurisdiction has only one precinct, the test sample shall be from at least two precincts, one selected by each candidate. In each of the precincts selected, the sample shall be at least three percent of the ballots cast or 50 ballots, whichever is greater. The test sample must also be counted on the voting system. Access to the immediate area of the voting system is limited to the recount official and legal adviser, officials of the election jurisdiction, the candidates and their representatives, and the technical persons necessary to the operation of the counting equipment. An observation area must be provided for the public. Ballots must be recounted by precinct. A report of recount results must be provided for each precinct. After the count of ballots for a precinct has been determined, all ballots must be resealed in the ballot container and returned with the other materials to the custodian of the ballots.
204C.22 DETERMINING VOTER’S INTENT.
Subdivision 1.Ballot valid if intent determinable.

A ballot shall not be rejected for a technical error that does not make it impossible to determine the voter’s intent. In determining intent the principles contained in this section apply.

Subd. 2.From face of ballot only.

Intent shall be ascertained only from the face of the ballot.

Subd. 3.Votes for too many candidates.

If a voter places a mark (X) beside the names of more candidates for an office than are to be elected or nominated, the ballot is defective with respect only to that office. No vote shall be counted for any candidate for that office, but the rest of the ballot shall be counted if possible. At a primary, if a voter has not indicated a party preference and places a mark (X) beside the names of candidates of more than one party on the partisan ballot, the ballot is totally defective and no votes on it shall be counted. If a voter has indicated a party preference at a primary, only votes cast for candidates of that party shall be counted.

Subd. 3a.Votes yes and no.

If a voter votes both yes and no on a question, no vote may be counted for that question, but the rest of the ballot must be counted if possible.

Subd. 4.Name written in proper place.

If a voter has written the name of an individual in the proper place on a general or special election ballot a vote shall be counted for that individual whether or not the voter makes a mark (X) in the square opposite the blank.
Subd. 4a.Write-in vote for candidate team.

A write-in vote cast for a candidate for governor without a write-in vote for a candidate for lieutenant governor must be counted as a vote for the candidate team including the lieutenant governor candidate selected by that candidate for governor.

Subd. 5.Name written on primary ballot.

If a voter has written the name of an individual on a primary or special primary ballot, a vote shall not be counted for that office.

Subd. 6.Mark out of place.

If a mark (X) is made out of its proper place, but so near a name or space as to indicate clearly the voter’s intent, the vote shall be counted.

Subd. 7.All written names or marks counted up to limit.

If a number of individuals are to be elected to the same office, the election judges shall count all names written in and all printed names with (X) marks in squares opposite them, not exceeding the whole number to be elected. When fewer names than the number to be elected are marked with an (X) or written in, only the marked or written in names shall be counted. When more names than the number to be elected are marked or written in, the ballot is defective with respect to that office and no vote shall be counted for that office.

Subd. 8.Misspelling; abbreviations.

Misspelling or abbreviations of the names of write-in candidates shall be disregarded if the individual for whom the vote was intended can be clearly ascertained from the ballot.

Subd. 9.Votes for only some offices or questions determined.

If the voter’s choice for only some of the offices or questions can be determined from a ballot, the ballot shall be counted for those offices or questions only.

Subd. 10.Different marks.

If a voter uniformly uses a mark other than (X) which clearly indicates an intent to mark a name or to mark yes or no on a question, and the voter does not use (X) anywhere else on the ballot, a vote shall be counted for each candidate or response to a question marked. If a voter uses two or more distinct marks, such as (X) and some other mark, a vote shall be counted for each candidate or response to a question marked, unless the ballot is marked by distinguishing characteristics that make the entire ballot defective as provided in subdivision 13.

Subd. 11.Attempted erasures.

If the names of two candidates have been marked, and an attempt has been made to erase or obliterate one of the marks, a vote shall be counted for the remaining marked candidate. If an attempt has been made to obliterate a write-in name a vote shall be counted for the remaining write-in name or marked candidate.

Subd. 12.Soil; defacement.

A ballot shall not be rejected merely because it is slightly soiled or defaced.
Subd. 13.Identifying ballot.

If a ballot is marked by distinguishing characteristics in a manner making it evident that the voter intended to identify the ballot, the entire ballot is defective.

Subd. 14.No votes for certain offices.

If the number of candidates for an office is equal to the number of individuals to be elected to that office, and the voter has not marked any name, no vote shall be counted for any candidate for that office.

Subd. 15.Blank ballot for one or more offices valid.

If no name or response to a question is marked and no name is written in, the ballot is blank with respect to that office or question. A ballot that is blank with respect to one or more offices or questions is not defective.