Minnesota Recount: How to Stuff a Ballot Box, and other developments

Remember when we used to brag about Minnesota’s election system?  It seems to have developed a few blemishes since then.  The state has now launched an investigation as to how 171 ballots suddenly materialized in a Maplewood precinct, giving Al Franken a 37-vote boost in the process.  Soren Dayton points out that the original explanation — a malfunctioning machine — doesn’t wash:

The votes on November 4th were: Coleman 542, Franken 628.  After today’s count, they stand at Coleman 596, Franken 719.  A net increase of 37 votes for Franken.

One possible explanation, offered by the Maplewood City Clerk, was that the automark scanner malfunctioned during the day and a replacement scanner was brought to the precinct.  The ballots that were already cast may not have been re-scanned.  But when a scanner malfunctions, it is recorded on the precinct Polling Place Incident Log.  Here is the log from Maplewood P-6,  a malfunction is not listed.

I’m curious as to how the discovered ballots favored Franken so heavily.  Coleman only picked up 54 of those votes (31.6%), while Franken got 81 (47.4%).  As I noted yesterday, Coleman won 39% of the vote for that precinct in the general election, while Franken got 45%.   That should have resulted in the gain of a dozen votes, not three dozen, for Franken.  If the machine didn’t malfunction and the ballot counts matched on Election Day, I’d call this rather fishy.

Franken won another round yesterday in the absentee-ballot issue, but a largely procedural one:

The day’s other news — which Franken’s campaign quickly described as a “breakthrough” — came when Ritchie’s office asked local election officials to examine an estimated 12,000 rejected absentee ballots and determine whether their rejection fell under one of four reasons for rejection defined in state law. The Secretary of State’s office asked that ballots that were rejected for something other than the four legal reasons be placed into a so-called “fifth category.”

The fifth category, Ritchie’s office said, could also include absentee ballots rejected for reasons that were “not based on factual information.”

Ritchie’s office, while stressing that the ballots be examined but not counted, asked that the task be completed by Dec. 18.

I’d hardly call this a breakthrough.  Ritchie anticipates the challenge Franken will file in the court, and he’s assuming (and hoping) that Franken will win some sort of review of rejected absentee ballots.  Ritchie’s order gives the county boards a head start on reviewing the ballots and verifying that they were statutorily rejected.  If not, then the fifth pile count will give some idea of the scope of the issue on which Franken will argue.  It doesn’t actually change anything, and in fact may demonstrate that the problem is so small that it will have little effect on the election.

Of course, if Franken ballots keep materializing in the precincts, he may not need to worry about it.