Minnesota Recount: Unanswered questions

posted at 12:16 pm on December 10, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

We have taken a considerable amount of pride in Minnesota’s electoral processes, but as usually happens when tested, we’ve discovered some uncomfortable gaps.  While rules for determining voter intent seem fairly straightforward, the process for actually arguing and ruling on the challenges apparently are non-existent:

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says he expects the state Canvassing Board to complete its review of challenged ballots in four days. He says the five-member board is likely to spend perhaps two to three minutes per ballot on “head scratchers.” Maybe 240 such ballots could be decided in an 8-hour day; 960 during the four days that the canvassing board has scheduled for the review.

But the expectation that that will be enough is based on a couple of large assumptions.  One assumption is that the campaigns will reduce their total challenges to fewer than 1,000 genuine disputes by next Tuesday. Another is Ritchie’s expectation that the campaigns will not play a major role in the board’s review of the challenges.

If either of those assumptions proves untrue, the Canvassing Board action could drag on for many days.

State election rules say a candidate who challenges a ballot or his representative “may present the basis for the challenge to the canvassing board.”  But Ritchie said the large number of challenges currently on file makes presentations by recount lawyers impractical, “and that would preclude the kind of argument that might be really appropriate some other place.”

But Ritchie and others say the issue has not been resolved.

Why is that important?  We’re on the clock here.  On January 6th, the 111th Congress convenes, and Minnesota wants to have its representative in place.  The ballot challenges have to be completed by then, and there aren’t a lot of days after the board begins its review.  They start on the 19th and will work until Christmas, and then the next week has New Years Day.  Both holidays fall on Thursdays, and will probably make Fridays impractical for work.  Congress reconvenes on a Tuesday, leaving just the 5th as a last-gasp day for ballot challenges and the hard deadline for a decision by the board.

If both campaigns plan to argue their case on each ballot, there is no way the board can make it through the 4,000+ ballots currently challenged.  It will take much longer than the three minutes assumed in the Strib’s analysis, which barely leaves time for a five-person vote as it is.  We can expect a 15-minute process for each challenge, with both teams getting five minutes for argument and another five minutes for resolution, requiring more than 1,000 hours.  Even if one could cut that in half, the board simply doesn’t have 500 hours available to it over the next three weeks.

Governor Tim Pawlenty could appoint Coleman as a temporary placeholder if the process runs past the January 6th date.  That might, however, void the election and force a special election instead.  The Senate might block that appointment while the recount process continues, and it could give Harry Reid the opening to seat Franken regardless of the results.

I’d bet that the canvassing board skips the arguments.  What’s the point of argument, anyway?  The board will apply the law as they know it.  I’d also guess that both campaigns want to get this resolved before the end of the year and will continue to reduce their challenges — but I doubt we’ll get down to 1,000 ballots before the 19th.


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Good lord, get it over with already Minnesota!

CP on December 10, 2008 at 12:21 PM

Too bad we can’t just eliminate that senatorial seat and get this jug screw over with.

rplat on December 10, 2008 at 12:25 PM

The more flushes this requires to get done the more likely Al “turd” Franken will float to the top. Senator Al Franken…wow we are doomed!

dmann on December 10, 2008 at 12:26 PM

How come Minnesota doesn’t have a runoff election like some other states when a candidate doesn’t reach the 50% threshold? I gotta say Louisiana elections are looking better and better by comparison.

saltydogg14 on December 10, 2008 at 12:31 PM

Why do governers get to select replacements for Obama, Biden, ect. But in this case, the senate selects? I disagree with selected not elected in any way, shape, or form. Let Minnesota have a runoff election and let the people decide.

aceinstall on December 10, 2008 at 12:41 PM

Yet another reason why Minnesota needs to be kicked out of the Union.

Percy_Peabody on December 10, 2008 at 12:49 PM

What’s to care if Franken, a bad comedian, rabid Socialist, failed radio talking mouth, money grubbing thief who steals from children’s programs, visceral ego with delusions of near adequacy, carries a major chip on his shoulder and possesses even less experience in governing than our next President wins? It’s not like he’ll be a major player in the Senate nor will he get rich(er) on his Princely salary. His presence won’t give the Democrat Party a filibuster-proof lock as that will still need smoke filled room negotiations. If Harry Reid steps in, Minnesota will be Republican for the next few generations.

An honorable man (which Franken is most assuredly NOT) would simply acknowledge the results, acknowledge defeat and walk away. Franken is working on pure ego now (and perhaps some New York style hubris).

SeniorD on December 10, 2008 at 12:51 PM

Why not put the challenges into categories/classes and have a presentation for each category?

MajorKong on December 10, 2008 at 12:51 PM

One “recount expert” said that the better strategy is to fist divide the challenged ballots into piles according to broad category of challenge type (small-dot distinctive marks, small-line distinctive marks, smudge distinctive marks, alphanumeric distinctive marks, overvote crossout, overvote lineout, etc.) and then it might be possible to rule on a whole pile at a time. For example, tiny “distinctive marks” are not distinctive marks…next!

RBMN on December 10, 2008 at 12:52 PM

From what I’ve seen of the challenged ballots (457 ballots in 7 counties on the MPR website), there shouldn’t be much debate on most of those challenges.

About half of them are clear votes for one candidate or the other–if the Canvassing Board decides to ignore the campaigns, they could make a 10-second decision for about 2,000 ballots, which would take 5 to 6 hours.

Another large group of them don’t have filled ovals, but an X or check mark in the oval, with the Presidential and House candidate marked in the same way. If the Canvassing Board decides to either accept all such ballots based on “intent of the voter” or reject them all as unfilled ovals and undervotes, the decision could be made once for all such ballots, although the two campaigns might want to get a count of how many such ballots favor each candidate, to decide whether to argue for acceptance or rejection “en masse” of such ballots.

There’s another group, about 10-15% of the ballots I’ve seen, where a voter fills in ovals for two candidates, and draws an X over one oval, as if he/she filled in a “wrong” oval, then changed his/her mind, crossed out that vote, and voted for another candidate. To be fair, the Canvassing Board would have to decide to either reject all such ballots as overvotes, or accept a vote for the candidate with the non-crossed-out oval in all cases. From the sample I’ve seen, counting these ballots would favor Franken, but there are some for Coleman as well.

There’s another group, about 5% of the challenged ballots, where there’s a clear vote for Senate, but the voter wrote in the same name for two or more other offices, such as county judges or soil commissioners. These are challenged on the basis of an “identifying mark”, assuming the voter wrote him/herself in for those positions. But what if they wrote in a friend’s name? If there is only one vote for Senate, and no write-in for Senate shouldn’t these votes count?

The challenge process might be speeded up if the Canvassing Board could separate the challenged ballots into several groups:

Clear vote for one Senate candidate, without extraneous marks

X or check mark for one Senate candidate

X or check mark next to one Senate candidate’s name, outside the oval

Two ovals filled, one crossed out

Clear vote for one Senate candidate with write-ins for other races.

Others, which might be tough calls.

Then, for each group except the last, the campaigns argue with the Canvassing Board, and a decision is made to either reject all ballots in the group, or count all the votes based on “intent of the voter”, so that the same criteria are used for all challenges. Once such a decision is made, the Canvassing Board assigns votes to an entire pile (or rejects them all) without further arguments from the campaigns.

Of the 457 ballots I checked, only 14 (about 3%) did not show a clear voter preference. If the same trend continued statewide, 3% of 4,000 challenges would be about 120 ballots, which would only take 6 hours at 3 minutes per ballot.

However, the key to a rapid resolution of the challenges would be for the Canvassing Board to separate all the challenged ballots into the groups listed above (and possibly others), then make a decision to either reject all ballots in a group or count them all based on the intent of the voter.

Steve Z on December 10, 2008 at 12:55 PM

With that many lakes, it should be a giant water park, not a State.

LimeyGeek on December 10, 2008 at 12:55 PM

If it takes 5 minutes to explain why he voter intent on a ballot is clear, then obviously the intent isn’t clear. Just go through them quickly and vote. Should be over in one day.

pedestrian on December 10, 2008 at 12:56 PM

I am willing to call Minnesota right now for Coleman. There you go Minnesota your welcome.

Dr Evil on December 10, 2008 at 12:56 PM

I know why Me, Al Franken is challenging the count, but how in heaven’s name did this race get to be so close? Are the people of Minnesota out of their Repub-hating minds? I can’t think of any other explanation.

Christine on December 10, 2008 at 1:07 PM

Governor Tim Pawlenty could appoint Coleman as a temporary placeholder…

…or Al Franken could show some class and concede.

Kafir on December 10, 2008 at 1:12 PM

Franken is missing the point. He needs to offer the canvassing board some money in order to win. That is the Democrat way.

savvydude on December 10, 2008 at 1:12 PM

If I put myself on the ballot and even 50 people voted for me, it’d be a travesty.

- Al Franken -

Syd B. on December 10, 2008 at 1:13 PM

taken a considerable amount of pride in Minnesota’s electoral processes,

You’ve taken a considerable amount of pride in the fact that an unfunny joke like Al Franken can come that close to being your Senator?

Professor Blather on December 10, 2008 at 1:17 PM

How come Minnesota doesn’t have a runoff election like some other states when a candidate doesn’t reach the 50% threshold? I gotta say Louisiana elections are looking better and better by comparison.

saltydogg14 on December 10, 2008 at 12:31 PM

Not relevant. The problem here is that the gap between the first candidate and the second candidate is only a few hundred votes. The same problem can happen in a two person race as well.

Why do governers get to select replacements for Obama, Biden, ect. But in this case, the senate selects? I disagree with selected not elected in any way, shape, or form. Let Minnesota have a runoff election and let the people decide.

aceinstall on December 10, 2008 at 12:41 PM

Obama’s seat is open. This seat is not open, it’s undecided.

MarkTheGreat on December 10, 2008 at 1:23 PM

As has already been said here, I am completely amazed that this race is close.
But then again, I’ve met many people from MN and this has reinforced the idea that many Minnesotans are truly mad.

Kudos to all you Minnesotans with a brain. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be that many of you.

Badger40 on December 10, 2008 at 1:43 PM

Is this anything? This is on HuffPo today:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/12/10/fbi-investigating-coleman_n_149840.html

FBI investigating Coleman.

juliesa on December 10, 2008 at 1:57 PM

Is this anything? This is on HuffPo today:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/12/10/fbi-investigating-coleman_n_149840.html

FBI investigating Coleman.

juliesa on December 10, 2008 at 1:57 PM

Thanks. I like reading the comments.
Now I truthfully am not aware of any wrongdoing Coleman has done in the past.
If it’s true, I’m not surprised as to why MN is so screwed up.
But if people actually thought Franken was a better choice, my God what in the hell’s wrong with them out there?!
Reading the comments on the article, I realize liberalism has sickeningly invaded all aspects of MN society.

The Twin Cities are freaking scary.

Ugh. I am not going there again if I can help it.
And BTW-The Mall of America really sucks. More of the same junk you can find anywhere-with Camp Snoopy.

Badger40 on December 10, 2008 at 2:06 PM

Ugh… We are living in interesting times.

darkpixel on December 10, 2008 at 2:07 PM

We have taken a considerable amount of pride in Minnesota’s electoral processes

You shouldn’t be. It is nothing but a big ‘cluster****’.

Every post you make about this ‘crapfest’ becomes more and more confusing.

Helloyawl on December 10, 2008 at 2:46 PM

To those of you picking on Minnesota:
You’re just jealous. Your elections were over SO long ago, and we still get to play politics.
Can Al Franken really sue an audience for not laughing?
Tough room.

Doug on December 10, 2008 at 2:55 PM

What the heck happened to Minnesota?

Another great state down the crapper of liberalism?

Al Frankin should have been run out on a rail. He’s a disgrace, and should have been beat by Triumph the Insult Dog.

Hening on December 10, 2008 at 3:13 PM