Minnesota Recount: Coleman files election contest

posted at 3:35 pm on January 7, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

No surprise here.  We knew both candidates had prepared election challenges to the Minnesota Senate race result, depending on which candidate won in the final recount tally.  Coleman may have some grounds for review, but it’s a long shot at best:

Surrounded by cheering supporters, Republican Norm Coleman, who received 225 fewer votes than DFLer Al Franken in the U.S. Senate recount, vowed Tuesday to wage a court battle to challenge the outcome.

“Not every valid vote has been counted, and some have been counted twice,” Coleman said. “Let’s take the time right now in this contested race to get it right.”

In deciding to fight on, Coleman rejected Monday’s ruling of the state Canvassing Board, which certified the results that gave Franken the lead. The next phase of the dispute will take place in Ramsey County District Court, where Coleman will try to convince a three-judge panel that he was hurt by votes that were wrongly excluded and improperly included in the recount.

Coleman made his announcement at a news conference surrounded by a feisty group of supporters in a room of the State Office Building in St. Paul. When Coleman was asked whether he had considered conceding the race, the crowd shouted in chorus, “No!”

It should be emphasized that election challenges are part of the lawful proceedings.  They make sense when conducted properly and for some substantial reason.  In an election where two candidates who received over 2 million votes in the aggregate ended up separated by less than 0.01% of those votes, the conduct of the election and the recount should receive great scrutiny.

Unfortunately, as my good friend Scott Johnson explains at Power Line today, it may be too little, too late.  Al Franken and his team understood how to win recounts, while Coleman appeared too hesitant to play the same game, or at least play it as aggressively:

The media coverage of the events related to Minnesota’s Senate election and subsequent recount has been so poor that it is difficult to determine what happened. The erosion of Senator Coleman’s approximately 700 vote lead over Al Franken on November 5 to the emergence of Al Franken with a 225 vote lead over Senator Coleman on January 5 has given rise to implications that Democrats have stolen the election for Franken.

The Wall Street Journal editorial “Funny business in Minnesota” is representative of this strain of commentary on the canvas and recount. This commentary comes with the underlying theme that Senator Coleman is a victim of Democratic scheming.

From the day following the election, the Franken campaign undertstood it needed to come up with additional votes to prevail. Thus the initial “count every vote” mantra that accompanied its litigation regarding rejected absentee ballots. The mantra ceased at the moment Franken took the lead, even though other apparently improperly rejected absentee ballots identified by the Coleman campaign have yet to be counted, and other Franken-leaning absentee ballots appear to have been counted twice.

It is particularly difficult to determine what happened in the recount as it proceeded at locations around the state. There has not to my knowledge been any public airing of grievances. The Board of Canvassers that was convened to preside over the recount and rule on challenged ballots conducted itself honorably under difficult circumstances.

Scott, who has followed the recount closely, comes to the same conclusion I have: that this election did not get “stolen”, but that Team Coleman got “outhustled and outsmarted” by Franken and his team.  Scott praises the work of the Canvassing Board for doing a good job under pressure, and says he saw no bias or bent in their work.  He’s correct.  Thus far, no one has shown any reason to believe that Franken manufactured votes during the recount process or did anything illegal at all.  The corrected election-night totals, in which 500 or so of Coleman’s lead dissipated in next-day corrections, got validated by the initial recount, which left Coleman ahead by around 230 votes.

The Coleman team simply didn’t play offense enough in the days after the election.  They looked to the example set by Dino Rossi in Washington to find what not to do, but they still wound up spending almost all of their time reacting to Team Franken’s actions rather than driving the process themselves.  Scott equates this to a prevent defense in the NFL with a 2-point lead.  Instead of aggressively looking for more Coleman votes, they spent most of their time limiting Franken’s team from finding more Franken votes.  That strategy may have made some sense for the person leading the race going into the recount, but as we see now, it’s about as effective in recount processes as it is in NFL games.

Still, Coleman has at least a slim chance of getting a second chance in the election contest.  The state Supreme Court may not like the lack of a statewide standard for reviewing absentee ballots, and the issue of double-counted ballots will certainly get their interest.  With the gap as narrow as it is, either or both of those issues would have been enough to return a bad result, and might get the court to intervene.  If the court wants to intervene, we will probably hear that later rather than sooner as they debate it.  Stay tuned.


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