My friend Gary Gross has an exclusive from one of the Norm Coleman volunteers in the recount that he promises will make people very, very angry. I’m not so sure about that, but it does point up the recount panel’s failure to exercise consistent control over the question of wrongly-rejected absentee ballots, and how that resulted in mischief during the recount:
Towards the end of that category, I saw my fiancé Sara’s name on the list. I tried, at first, to examine the ballots leading up to hers with my best poker face in hopes that we’d examine her ballot as we’d examined the others in the category, and not discuss it based on who she was as an identifiable voter.
I had no such luck.
When we came to examine Sara’s ballot, the Franken attorney (who I had been working with for two days) recognized my name as a witness to her absentee ballot.
As I wrote above, we were looking at a category of ballots that the county and both campaigns agreed were wrongly rejected as a result of an error made by a county worker, not the voter.
I recall the smug look, and devious grin on the face of the Franken attorney as looked at my witness signature on the ballot envelope. I openly admitted then that the ballot was my fiancé’s, and that I had served as a witness for her so she could cast her ballot absentee. She was scheduled to be in California on business on Election Day.
Among the other reasons an absentee ballot can be rejected is when the signature on the request for the absentee ballot and the signature on the absentee ballot submission don’t match. For the obvious reason of protecting voters against having their ballot cast absentee by someone other than themselves, this reason for rejection makes sense and is something I fully support.
Knowing specifically that I (a Coleman attorney) was a witness to her ballot, and suspecting that her ballot was cast for Coleman, the Franken Attorney said he believed that the signatures on her absentee ballot did not match the signature on her absentee ballot request, and that it was his position (the position of the Franken campaign) that her ballot should not be included in the recount.
This happened in Dakota County, where I live, and which has elected conservative John Kline to four terms in the House. It doesn’t surprise me that Franken’s team would target ballots in this county as more potentially damaging to their chances. Why shouldn’t they? The Canvassing Board gave both campaigns carte blanche to run roughshod over the rights of voters by granting them veto power over the so-called “fifth pile” absentee ballots.
The decision to grant that veto power is what led the election contest panel to grant Coleman’s request to review almost 4800 more ballots last week. The Canvassing Board stood the electoral process on its ear, putting the campaigns in charge of enforcing the law rather than the state, in a move that essentially abandoned Minnesota voters to the whims of campaign muscle from both sides. It violated the Bush v Gore standard of the Equal Protection Clause, and even the remedy granted to Coleman last week might not solve that problem on appeal.
Gary is correct, though, that this episode makes Al Franken’s pledge to “count every vote” look highly hypocritical. The problem, though, is that Al Franken and Norm Coleman shouldn’t have had the power to determine that. Minnesotans expected that the state would protect the rights of voters, an expectation that the Canvassing Board and the Secretary of State failed to meet.