Minnesota Recount: Just what we need -- more ballots

Minnesotans might have thought that the close election and the entire recount process would have accounted for all the ballots cast in the election, but apparently a few precincts still have nooks and crannies to search.  Anoka County managed to stun the election contest court yesterday by announcing that they had discovered ballots that had never been counted.  How many more weeks do counties need to find them all?

Perry Mason, meet Rachel Smith.

Smith, the top elections official in Anoka County, dropped a minor bombshell Thursday in the courtroom where a lawsuit over Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race was being heard. She testified that the county has found — within the prior 24 hours — a dozen or more ballots that were never counted in the statewide recount that ended last month.

While the number is not enough to overcome Democrat Al Franken’s 225-vote lead over former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, it suggests there might be other uncounted ballots in other counties. Only a handful of elections officials have testified in the recount trial so far. …

The discovery includes:

  • Three military ballots for Coleman from a Spring Lake Park precinct that were originally duplicated and misplaced before the recount. They were found in a large envelope  containing discarded absentee-ballot return envelopes.
  • Six absentee ballots that were found inside their original return envelopes and have never been counted.
  • Several other ballots that were rejected for one reason or another, but that the county now says should be reconsidered.

Anoka County officials should be embarrassed, and Anoka County voters enraged.  They went to the polls expecting their votes to count, not to get misplaced and forgotten.  The small number in Anoka won’t change the election, but it would have disenfranchised the voters through no fault of their own.

Minnesota has to take another look at their absentee process.  We have repeatedly heard problems with the duplication procedure, where precinct officials create a duplicate able to be read by the optical-scan counter and mark the original.  Unfortunately, some of the originals didn’t get properly marked, leading to repeat counting in some instances that favored Al Franken.  That mess has to get unraveled now by the election contest panel.  It’s a stupid idea, and it needs to stop.  Either count absentee ballots by hand or force voters to use the same optical-scan process as voters do at the poll, but no one should be creating duplicate ballots in the precincts.

Speaking of stuck on stupid, Franken went to the state Supreme Court to demand an election certificate:

Minnesota Supreme Court justices aggressively questioned Al Franken’s lawyer today as he argued that Franken ought to be issued a provisional election certificate and seated in the U.S. Senate while the recount trial continues.

Attorney Marc Elias said Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie are usurping federal authority by refusing to certify Franken as the winner of the long-running Senate battle, pending the end of the legal contest that Republican Norm Coleman is waging to overturn the Democrat’s 225-vote lead. …

But lawyers for Coleman and the state said that Minnesota law is clear that no election certificate may be issued until the legal contest and any subsequent appeals are over.

The four justices hearing the case this morning at the State Capitol peppered Elias with questions.

Maybe Franken’s lawyers should study actual law.  No one has won the election yet; the election contest is part of the election process, not some ad hoc aberration.  The Constitution gives the state the right to determine its representatives.  The allocation of two Senators and variable numbers of House members does not constitute a requirement to produce them immediately if the process is ongoing.  Those who attended the session felt that the judges were pungently skeptical of Elias’ arguments, and for good reason.

Why did Franken wait until now to make that argument, anyway?  It’s been a month since the end of the recount.  Team Franken understands how the recent decision on absentee ballots hurts their standing, and wanted to grab the seat now rather than wait for the 4800 absentee ballots to be counted.