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The Brod-Rest runoff plan: a math problem

If Norm Coleman were leading Al Franken by 14,000 votes — or visa versa — why should we force a second election?
By David Brauer

If Norm Coleman was leading Al Franken by 14,000 votes, should we require a do-over election?

That’s a possibility under an elections proposal unveiled today by State Rep. Ann Rest (D-New Hope) and State Rep. Laura Brod (R-New Prague).

I understand the temptation of a runoff in a close election — really I do — though I think it’s a terrible idea. As I’ve written before (twice today, actually), the runoff would inevitably be a lower-turnout election, and shouldn’t supplant a higher-turnout one. The cure is simply worse than the disease.

But there’s a part of the Brod-Rest plan that seems particularly wrong-headed. They’d institute the runoff if the top two candidates finish within a half-percentage point of each other. That’s cribbed from current law which mandates a recount if the margin is that close. The idea is to get rid of the recount and go straight to the runoff.

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However, there were 2.9 million votes cast for U.S. Senator this time around. A half percent of 2.9 million is 14,500. Overturning a margin that big would be a travesty. (I’m pretty sure if Al was leading Norm by 1,000 votes right now, this thing would be over. But if you’re ultra-cynical about Norm’s self-interest, let’s say 2,000.)

As we’ve seen in the current race, there are at most a couple thousand votes genuinely in dispute. If you’re going to refine this bad idea, cut that mandatory runoff percentage by a factor of five, to one-tenth of 1 percent.

There are other reasons to oppose this, but I’ll leave that for future discussion. Comments always welcome, though!