Townhall article: What really happened in the Franken-Coleman recount

posted at 9:30 am on August 26, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

A few months ago, when the daily machinations of the Minnesota recount had everyone’s attention, Townhall Magazine approached me for an in-depth article on the subject.  The story kept getting postponed as the recount process lengthened with the various challenges, but I began talking to people on the ground for Norm Coleman’s team to find out how Franken had taken the lead during the recount phase.  After the entire process ended with Coleman’s concession, I talked with more people and wrote a lengthy report on what really happened and how Al Franken won the election recount.

That story appears in this month’s Townhall Magazine, which should be arriving shortly for those who already subscribe.  It’s not available on line, but here’s a taste of my report:

The Franken team had a clear mission. Since they were behind in votes, they needed to either find new Franken votes or discredit Coleman votes in order to close the gap. Learning from the Gregoire campaign, they trained their volunteers to understand the limits of Minnesota law and to aggressively challenge ballots.

Coleman’s team, on the other hand, had a much more delicate mission, as they explained to their volunteers. Each of the precinct workers interviewed for this story had the same description of the instructions given by the campaign: Do not get overly aggressive in challenging ballots. They did not want to be seen as the campaign that “disenfranchised” Minnesota voters, as successful ballot challenges do by removing ballots from the count.

One Coleman volunteer explained the instruction as an explicit message from Team Coleman that “we don’t expect to be in the business of suppressing Franken votes, and we’re not trying to find new Coleman votes. … Don’t go out of your way to make what we think will be frivolous challenges.”

This instruction came specifically about overvotes, where a voter filled in two or more bubbles on the same race, which would have led the counting machines to reject the ballot for that race. Franken’s team latched onto the overvotes and tried to argue on as many as possible that the intent of the voter was to support Franken. Coleman’s team knew from the beginning that Franken’s volunteers would use that strategy, another Coleman recount worker said, but that “we should not engage them like that.”

But according to Minnesota law, as the state discovered during the process, the question of voter intent on overvotes is a legitimate area of challenge in a recount. In this case, it appears that both campaigns understood the parameters of action, but Coleman’s team simply didn’t want to avail itself of the entire range of action allowed by Minnesota statutes. They trained their recount volunteers to engage only on the most obvious cases and to refrain especially from giving the appearance that the Republicans wanted to invalidate ballots on a massive scale.

Predictably, this led to many missed opportunities for Coleman challenges. Because of the training received, the GOP volunteers assumed that many of the Franken team’s challenges in the precincts were invalid and would be tossed out by the Canvassing Board, the bipartisan panel that ruled on each challenged ballot. They were shocked to see the types of challenges later upheld by the panel, and they lamented the passive manner of the Coleman team’s recount effort, especially in the opening days. One volunteer estimated that he could have produced between 10-20 ballot challenges himself that the Canvassing Board would have upheld, based on their later rulings.

Franken’s team didn’t rest on its organizational edge during the recount, either. They gathered information from all the precinct recounts, even using tally sheets to note trends on questionable ballots, and apparently analyzed them overnight. Coleman volunteers recall seeing coordinated efforts to focus on new issues almost every day from their counterparts during the process.

None of the people involved, most of them GOP partisans, believed that Franken “stole” the recount or did anything illegal. All of them insisted that the difference came down to two different approaches.  Team Coleman wanted a collegial, Minnesota-style approach, while Franken’s team saw this as an adversarial process that pushed both teams to use every legal advantage available for each client.  Put more simply, Coleman got outboxed, and badly, especially in the early days of the recount.

That’s a lesson Republicans need to learn.  Gone are the days when Congressional and especially Senate recounts will get conducted as a collegial effort between two candidates who want to act as referees as well as litigants.  Both sides had better be prepared for a process that looks a lot more like a lawsuit — or maybe a divorce — than anything else.  That includes preparation for a recount in races that look close months before the election.  Franken did all of these things, which is the reason he’s sitting in the Senate now.

Be sure to get your copy of Townhall Magazine soon, and read it all.

Note: When you do get your copy of it, you will notice this headline on the cover: “How Did This Happen? Al Franken and the Democrats Stole the Election as the GOP Stood By, by Ed Morrissey.”  I didn’t write that headline, and that’s not what the article says.  I argue the opposite and advise in the article that the “stolen” meme will prevent Republicans from learning the lessons of the Minnesota recount, so I think the headline was an unfortunate choice.

Update: I don’t mean to make this as critical of Norm Coleman as it sounds.  I think one  commenter put it best by saying that Coleman acted in the spirit of the law while Franken acted to the letter of the law.  It’s hard to criticize the former approach, but one has to recognize when the opposition will use the latter approach and adjust accordingly.  There’s a lot more in the article, so be sure to get your hands on a copy.


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Are the Black Panthers bipartisan?

VibrioCocci on August 26, 2009 at 9:44 AM

Yes, they hate whites and caucasians equally.

Laura in Maryland on August 26, 2009 at 11:06 AM

You take the high road
and I’ll take the low road
and I’ll be in the Senate
Before ye!

Laura in Maryland on August 26, 2009 at 11:08 AM

Now, why don’t you finally admit that Bush stole Gore failed to steal the 2000 election? ;)

blink on August 26, 2009 at 10:08 AM

Fixed your typo.

NoDonkey on August 26, 2009 at 11:12 AM

Survival of the fittest, and the fittest won–again. The GOP has no balls, left behind their principles a decade ago, and wonders why they got their @sses kicked in 2006 and 2008? And they’re on track to f**k-up a lay-up in 2010, what with a total inability to formulate a strategy to recognize that the roots of the tea party movement is anti-government, and only incidentally anti-Democrat and anti-Obama.

You watch, with glib spokesmen like Mumbles McConnell and helpful idiots like John McCain who wants to reach across the aisle to help fix Obamacare (what an absolute sh*t for brains idea THAT is), the GOP will find a way to deflect the death blow America is willing to deal to Obama and the Dems…onto themselves. Let’s be “collegial” and “remain classy.”

Losers.

PD Quig on August 26, 2009 at 11:14 AM

the right has to understand that the fight with the left is in the sewer with sewer rats and if they don’t get down and dirty they’ll get outboxed every time.

rjoco1 on August 26, 2009 at 11:15 AM

This Obama administration is not funny anymore. I don’t think people realize the danger and destruction coming because of these socialist actions. Do you know how close to collapse this country is?? This is the single most destructive gov,t in US history, voted in because of decievement and money. This gov,t was bought and paid for by dangerous people. Did you hear me??? this Obama group was bought. Franken was bought also. Not enough Republicans saw this coming. So what do we do till 2012??

royzer on August 26, 2009 at 11:16 AM

It’s sad that Republicans think that holding on to dignity and honor while fighting for your life against an opponent with no morales or honor carries some sort of bonus. There are no Marquis of Kingsbury rules in effect if both sides don’t agree to them. Voters expect to see their candidate fight until the end and win. I want to vote for a street fighter, not a professional politician looking for a pay raise.

The presidential election was the perfect example of one candidate trying so hard to be likable while the other’s political machine pulverized him.

Hening on August 26, 2009 at 11:17 AM

Coleman’s people brought a nail-clipper to a gunfight. Franken’s people brought Uzi’s.

Thanks a lot, Norm. Now I have to listen to shit from my Franken-volunteering brother-in-law for the next 5 years.

And that hunnerd bucks I sent your campaign, what a frikkin’ waste.

Don’t bother running for Guv. You’re toast.

Bruno Strozek on August 26, 2009 at 11:20 AM

The collegial approach may have worked in the past when Republicans were up against the typical Dem but we’re fighting the far left now and civility isn’t going to work. We need to be as down and dirty as they are. The senior citizens fighting against TeddyCare understand this.

mph on August 26, 2009 at 11:20 AM

That’s a lesson Republicans need to learn. Gone are the days when Congressional and especially Senate recounts will get conducted as a collegial effort between two candidates who want to act as referees as well as litigants.

I disagree…the lesson is very simple…Unless the republican wins by several thousand votes, he should note his victory and then concede as the dems will count and count and count and lawyer and lawyer until they have closed the gap and pushed a few ‘votes’ ahead and then the process stops. As republicans do not seem to be willing to fight on those terms, the proper course is to concede and save all the time and money wasted in this process. We know who wins…it is always the dem.They cheat, we don’t.

JIMV on August 26, 2009 at 11:22 AM

Politics is a blood sport.

Democrats play it to win.
Republicans are more interested in making sure that when it is over, everyone still likes them.

This is why Republicans get rolled time after time, and they still aren’t liked by anybody.

MarkTheGreat on August 26, 2009 at 11:25 AM

Ed stop being a wuss – the Dems STOLE it. They are the ENEMY

bill30097 on August 26, 2009 at 11:25 AM

So what do we do till 2012FIFY

Until 2010? Fight/resist, train, prepare and network. Write letters, make calls, attend TEA Parties. Plenty to do…

indypat on August 26, 2009 at 11:27 AM

Minnesota needs to change legislation, so this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.

When an election is that close, a re-vote should be mandated.

SalHansen on August 26, 2009 at 11:28 AM

Should have never been that close to begin with.

kirkill on August 26, 2009 at 11:04 AM

the lesson is very simple…Unless the republican wins by several thousand votes, he should note his victory and then concede
JIMV on August 26, 2009 at 11:22 AM

Good points, both.

Move on, regroup and figure out how to reach a larger public.

misslizzi on August 26, 2009 at 11:29 AM

Gone are the days when Congressional and especially Senate recounts will get conducted as a collegial effort between two candidates who want to act as referees as well as litigants.

There may have been such days in Minnisota; it certainly wasn’t true in Lyndon Johnson’s first senate race, any race in Chicago or the race in which I was a poll watcher in Gardena CA. All of these races involved illegal activity, not just lack of collegial spirit.

burt on August 26, 2009 at 11:30 AM

That’s a lesson Republicans need to learn.

Collegial is history. Adversarial, Alinsky or otherwise, is the rule. It’s war now. Not just in recounts. But in politics generally.

petefrt on August 26, 2009 at 11:32 AM

Ed stop being a wuss – the Dems STOLE it. They are the ENEMY

bill30097 on August 26, 2009 at 11:25 AM

READ IT AGAIN. Ed didn’t say he was okay with this. The GOP needs to learn a lesson and not just cry foul.

Don’t expect to win a fight with Crips if you’re going to follow Queensbury rules!

Laura in Maryland on August 26, 2009 at 11:34 AM

It’s sad that Republicans think that holding on to dignity and honor while fighting for your life against an opponent with no morales or honor carries some sort of bonus. There are no Marquis of Kingsbury rules in effect if both sides don’t agree to them. Voters expect to see their candidate fight until the end and win. I want to vote for a street fighter, not a professional politician looking for a pay raise.

The presidential election was the perfect example of one candidate trying so hard to be likable while the other’s political machine pulverized him.

Hening on August 26, 2009 at 11:17 AM

+100

Mini-14 on August 26, 2009 at 11:34 AM

I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone it, people like me.

LMAO

Does anyone really take this Funnyman seriously? To the people from Minnesota who voted this Moron into office, is this some kind of joke? I really don’t blame Stuart for taking the job you voted him into however, you can recall him when your done playing with him!

Remember to vote …….

BigMike252 on August 26, 2009 at 11:35 AM

While Coleman should have fought harder, I don’t see how the results would have been much different with such a screwed up canvassing board and partisan system.

aikidoka on August 26, 2009 at 11:44 AM

None of the people involved, most of them GOP partisans, believed that Franken “stole” the recount or did anything illegal.

A more accurate statement would be that the Franken campaign stole the election, but may have nominally stayed within the letter of the law.

That does not change the fact that he stole the election.

There is no simply question that on the day of the election Coleman received more valid votes.

18-1 on August 26, 2009 at 11:48 AM

The presidential election was the perfect example of one candidate trying so hard to be likable while the other’s political machine pulverized him.

Hening on August 26, 2009 at 11:17 AM

I think the hallmark of the election was McCain attacking his own supporters for using Obama’s middle name, while Obama was dispatching a team of “plumbers” to dig up dirt on Palin and her children.

18-1 on August 26, 2009 at 11:50 AM

Republicans continually do this. Always bringing a butter knife to a nuclear weapon fight.

Midas on August 26, 2009 at 11:56 AM

RNC memo to all Republican poiticians: Disenfranchise is the new racist. And as customary, do everything humanly possible to avoid being accused of it. Including loosing an election if you have to.

Remember, democrats can spew as much hateful venom as they please and still attract independents. But one accusation of disenfranchisement or racism tossed at a Republican will cause those same independents to flee in the opposite direction.

RNC

RMR on August 26, 2009 at 12:02 PM

Coleman was missing the “Eye of the Tiger”….

Avatar72 on August 26, 2009 at 12:03 PM

eman was missing the “Eye of the Tiger”….

Avatar72 on August 26, 2009 at 12:03 PM

and steel spine
and brass b@lls
and hot lead

Laura in Maryland on August 26, 2009 at 12:10 PM

This whole “voter intent” crap has got to go. If it is not perfectly clear, toss the ballot. Period.

TexAz on August 26, 2009 at 12:17 PM

Sharks vs Fish

entagor on August 26, 2009 at 12:20 PM

but Coleman’s team simply didn’t want to avail itself of the entire range of action allowed by Minnesota statutes.

*SIGH* I am reminded of the classic line from The Untouchables: “Just like a (republican)…brings a knife to a gunfight.” WAKE UP, PEOPLE!

Huckabye-Romney on August 26, 2009 at 12:33 PM

That has been my problem with the Republicans in the last decade or so; that is why I so like Sarah Palin. She is no wimp.

Even the TEA Party organizations are fearful of getting bad PR. I have suggested using MLK’s tactics if protesting doesn’t work; such as sit-ins in congressional district offices. They run away from such pro-active ideas. Anyway, we are labeled as blownshirts, Nazis, Klansmen, evil-mongers, un-American mobs by our betters, so why not be called “disrupters” also. Hey, that doesn’t sound as bad as the other names we have been given.

amr on August 26, 2009 at 12:35 PM

Your point is very well taken that Republicans need to be more aggressive in vote counts.

However, taking a Senate seat when one does not really have the most votes still spells “stolen” to me. Also, it seemed every ruling favored the Franken side. Yup, I still say he stole the election.

WannabeAnglican on August 26, 2009 at 12:39 PM

Basically, what we should have learned is that Republicans need to stop bring knives to gun fights. We should have learned this lesson about 50 years ago.

Security Mom on August 26, 2009 at 1:02 PM

Are the Black Panthers bipartisan?

VibrioCocci on August 26, 2009 at 9:44 AM

Yes, they hate whites and caucasians equally.

Laura in Maryland on August 26, 2009 at 11:06 AM

Spewed Coke on my monitor

Jeff from WI on August 26, 2009 at 1:08 PM

Basically, what we should have learned is that Republicans need to stop bring knives to gun fights. We should have learned this lesson about 50 years ago.

Security Mom on August 26, 2009 at 1:02 PM

But, but, we’d no longer be friends with McCain, “my friend.”

You are sooooo right, mother, but no Republican Rep will ever – well, there is that Palin gal!

klickink.wordpress.com on August 26, 2009 at 1:41 PM

So in a nutshell, Franken’s team did what they had to in order to win “ends justify the means.” While Coleman wanted to ease along trying not to offend anyone and still win, just like the middle of the road Republican wussy he was.

How did that work out for him?

The sooner we realize we are at war, the sooner we’ll quit taking needless casualties.

This is another Homer Simpson moment, including the head slap.

archer52 on August 26, 2009 at 2:09 PM

So in a nutshell, Franken’s team did what they had to in order to win “ends justify the means.” While Coleman wanted to ease along trying not to offend anyone and still win, just like the middle of the road Republican wussy he was.

How did that work out for him?

The sooner we realize we are at war, the sooner we’ll quit taking needless casualties.

This is another Homer Simpson moment, including the head slap.

archer52 on August 26, 2009 at 2:09 PM

In a nutshell, Franken learned the lessons of Florida 2000.

(Though, to be sure, the article sounds like a bunch of losers spinning hard that they were too fair and to nice in the face of a partisan juggernaut. Just as likely they were just outfought by the better team.)

Bleeds Blue on August 26, 2009 at 2:48 PM

It’s all downhill from here.

WyoMike on August 26, 2009 at 2:59 PM

None of the people involved, most of them GOP partisans, believed that Franken stole the recount or did anything illegal.

Anyone who believes the recount was above board needs only to read the following article to understand beyond doubt that the fix was in for Franken:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,470892,00.html

clark smith on August 26, 2009 at 3:49 PM

In a nutshell, Franken learned the lessons of Florida 2000.

What lesson would that be? When you’re trying to steal an election, better have your sh!t together rather than just making it up on the fly?

That’s a lesson Republicans need to learn.

You’re absolutely right, Ed. After all, the godfather of the Left spelled out their view of politics nearly a century ago:


“To rely upon conviction, devotion, and other excellent spiritual qualities; that is not to be taken seriously in politics.” – Vladimir Lenin

rvastar on August 26, 2009 at 3:50 PM

In a nutshell, Franken learned the lessons of Florida 2000.

What lesson would that be? When you’re trying to steal an election, better have your sh!t together rather than just making it up on the fly?

The lesson is that you play to win.

The entire country, a thousand GOP lawyers and a Republican Governor were watching: Franken didn’t cheat and he didn’t steal, he just played harder and better.

Bleeds Blue on August 26, 2009 at 4:09 PM

Excuse me, but why hasn’t anyone said anything about those dumbas*es that can’t fill out a freaking voting card. Hanging “chads”, penciled answers not filled in completely, two answers, no answers, notes scribled to self, grocery lists, etc. If this wasn’t sooo sad, it would be funny. Come to think of it, it is funny.

bklyn04 on August 26, 2009 at 4:13 PM

In politics, good guys lose. Hello Senator Franken.

leftnomore on August 26, 2009 at 4:28 PM

When, for the sake of our country, will the people and the Republican Party learn?

The Democrats do elections like General Patton did war. Unfortunately, they do absolutely everything else the way Republicans do elections. It just goes to show us what is truly important to the two parties. Liberal politics, as has been said, is not about compassion, it is about getting and maintaining power.

It’s priorities are:
1. Self.
2. Party.
3. Special Interests
4. The Country? Well, three out of four ain’t bad!

George Bush’s two wins were nothing less than the mercy of God on our land. And some very, very good lawyering.

etaoinshrdlu on August 26, 2009 at 4:34 PM

aikidoka on August 26, 2009 at 11:44 AM

I don’t see how the canvassing board can sleep at night with the outrages calls they made.

Al in St. Lou on August 26, 2009 at 4:35 PM

Geez, should be “outrageous.”

Al in St. Lou on August 26, 2009 at 4:37 PM

If you choose more than one answer on a test and there’s only one answer allowed, you miss the question. Pretty simple really.

I wonder if someone forgot to fill in the card for any candidate, if the PTB would just assume that since Minnesota is historically a Democrat state, they would just fill in the Franken vote?

Anyone else think we’re going to see huge “upsets” when Dems down by double digits miraculously pull it out at the last minute?

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 26, 2009 at 4:40 PM

The Republicans remind me of the British during the Revolutionary war. We shall fight as gentlemen. What an ignorant attitude for battle. Bush reach across the aisle and pulled back a bloody stump and George just couldn’t believe it. But they said, “blah blah blah”. Where oh where are the john Wayne’s or the Joe Apro’s? Look at McCain and the way he ran his mouth. Hardly tough. Maybe even whimpy.

mixplix on August 26, 2009 at 5:13 PM

Repubs act like wimps because we fear that no matter how we behave we will be the ones called out for being aggressive and therefore foul.

Even if MSM doesn’t write the accusations they will repeat them verbatim for years to come and forever taint the Repub. winner as being somehow illegitimate because some idiot with a bad attitude complained.

Black Panthers can carry weapons to precinct locations and be given a pat on the back for getting involved in the electoral process for once. I wonder if those BPs carry weapons to their workplace? or to their Schoolboard meetings? or to their doctors’ offices? or to their churches?

Why does Eric Holder appear to commend them for getting involved in the electoral process when they demonstrate no interest in getting involved in any other productive aspect of American life?

So far as I’m concerned, the solution here isn’t just for Repubs to lawyer up in anticipation of 2010 elections–it’s also to put MSM all the way out of business. Their credibility is dubious, their viewership is tiny, without the conservatives quoting them no one would know what they said. So why do WE care what they say?

rwenger43 on August 26, 2009 at 7:41 PM

that is why we are in the position we are in. Seems
the Democratic women have bigger balls than republican
men.

uber on August 26, 2009 at 9:35 PM

The sooner people on our side realize that the adversary is using all available means and we need to do the same, the faster we will be able to ascend once again.

Summary: Nice guys and gals finish last.

The Perkins Coie’s of the world don’t give a damn about anything but beating you into the ground. We’re dealing with what amounts to a hardened group of Bolsheviks. That doesn’t mean we lose our principles, but we have to be much more Lee Atwater and much less John McCain.

It’s an all-out war out there, particularly now. The Obama Crew is the dirtiest operation that has ever existed, at least nationally.

PhoenixUniversal on August 27, 2009 at 10:37 PM

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