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NY Times: Minnesota recount doomed

In this morning’s New York Times op-ed section, science writer Charles Seife writes that “the recount in Minnesota is futile.”

Seife — who has authored books such as “Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea” and “Sun in a Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking” — bases his argument on a simple premise: the ballot counting error rate will certainly be higher than the Coleman-Franken margin.

After running through the ongoing counting and finding snafus, he concludes, “the right way to end the senatorial race between Mr. Coleman and Mr. Franken will be to flip a coin.”

That would certainly be less painful than the current process, though less fun for journalists and other recount freaks. By the way, MPR’s Bob Collins has already presented coin designs:

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by John Olson on 12/04/2008 - 06:56 am.


    At a minimum, I hope that after the outcome of this race is determined, the Legislature and Secretary of State will take a bipartisan look at using this race to examine what should be done to improve ballot handling and other election processes and procedures.

    The recount process for this race has taken on a circus atmosphere. The cynic in me can’t help but wonder if this is being intentionally prolonged so the high-priced attorneys and consultants can turn this into their own “Holiday Bonus.”

    Get this thing done.

  2. Submitted by William Souder on 12/04/2008 - 08:49 am.

    So at last, somebody actually makes sense of this ridiculous exercise in mathematically impossible democracy. If Seife is correct…as he surely is…then Minnesota’s law requiring a recount when candidates finish within a few votes of one another is backwards. Instead, such a race should be called what it is: an indeterminate tie. Or, to use the term of art so prevalent in pre-election polling, Franken and Coleman finished within the margin of error. We don’t know who won–and we never can. We should have flipped a coin on November 5.

  3. Submitted by Jim Camery on 12/04/2008 - 11:20 am.

    What seems real weird about this whole recount effort is the energy that both sides are putting into spinning how they’re ahead or gaining or holding or whatever. It’s as if influencing public opinion will influence the elections judges doing the recount or the group evaluating the disputed ballots.

    I suppose it’s the inevitable result of the media pumping them for quotes and suits who are trained to spin and paid to spin.

    I’d settle for the coin flip.

  4. Submitted by chris hatch on 12/04/2008 - 11:55 am.

    we should just have a run off election in cases like these.

    can’t imagine it would cost much more and taking a look at Georgia, it would be done and definitive by now.

  5. Submitted by Brian Simon on 12/04/2008 - 12:58 pm.

    chris hatch is on to something. I’d settle for instant run-off.

  6. Submitted by Ross Williams on 12/04/2008 - 12:58 pm.

    The margin will have to be a lot closer than it is now for that to be truee. Even if there are 1000 “missing ballot”, they would have to be disproportionately for Franken to make a difference. And most of those “missing” ballots are probably not missing at alll.

    Frankly, this is the kind of article that newspapers used to get away with regularly before the internet. Its credibility depends on the inability of people who know the details that challenge their version of events. Now, with internet open to everyone, these stories just end up making them look bad. Its part of the reason why the MSM continues to lose its audience.

  7. Submitted by Jeff Kline on 12/04/2008 - 01:03 pm.

    Actually a run-off election would be cheaper than the expenses incurred by all the litigating parties involved for both squabbling camps. This might indeed be something to be looked at fairly soon. We have another cycle coming in 2 years and this would be good to have in place instead of what we have now. This is ugly.

  8. Submitted by Ross Williams on 12/04/2008 - 01:12 pm.

    What seems real weird about this whole recount effort is the energy that both sides are putting into spinning how they’re ahead or gaining or holding or whatever

    I think it is important to remember that in the end the Senate has to decide to seat whoever wins. At the end of this there will be a political decision, based in part on how credible the final outcome is. Neither side can afford an outcome that completely contradicts public expectations.

  9. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 12/04/2008 - 03:00 pm.

    A runoff could result in a recount too. I still like the idea, but just so no one labors under the illusion a runoff would mean never again a recount.

    The process however isn’t a mess. Compare it to Florida. That whole mess was about whether to recount, which ballots, and by what standard. We had all that settled in law before the election. There are really just two messes: there was clearly a hole in the handling of rejected absentee ballots and that needs to get looked at, and the challenging procedure is open to abuse. Take out those two issues however, and this has been remarkably smooth.

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