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KSTP report underscores problem with state’s absentee-ballot counting

KSTP television recently ran a groundbreaking investigative report regarding the counting of absentee ballots in the 2008 election. It should give every Minnesotan pause.

Michael Brodkorb
Michael Brodkorb

KSTP television recently ran a groundbreaking investigative report (video below) regarding the counting of absentee ballots in the 2008 election. It should give every Minnesotan pause.

Approximately 300,000 absentee ballots were cast in Minnesota last year. Accurate counting of those votes was obviously critical in the protracted U.S. Senate contest between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken. You might recall that after several months of litigation, Franken was declared the winner by 312 votes.

The KSTP report focused on the methods used by various election officials to determine which absentee ballots were counted and which ones were not. This was the big issue that emerged during the court battle between Coleman and Franken, and the resolution of this issue likely determined the outcome of the race.

Coleman’s lawyers argued that uniform standards were not applied across the state, when determining which absentee ballots to count, and which to exclude. The KSTP story validated that position. 
Must be uniform standard
For example, an election official from Maple Grove told the KSTP reporter that ballots without signatures were rejected. The same was true in Brooklyn Park. But then the reporter talked to an official in Minneapolis who admitted that ballots without signatures were accepted and counted.  So the state of Minnesota did not apply a uniform standard to determine whether or not a particular absentee ballot was counted. Had Franken won by 50,000 votes, the absentee ballots almost certainly would have made no difference. But the margin was 312.
Coleman lost in court. But I believe the real issue is the way the election was conducted.
The secretary of state, Mark Ritchie, is responsible for overseeing elections in Minnesota. The essence of a fair election is to make certain that properly cast ballots are counted, and improperly cast ballots are not counted. In order to accomplish this, there must be a uniform standard to determine the admissibility of a ballot, and that standard must be understood and adhered to by those reviewing ballots. Clearly, this secretary of state did not fulfill this responsibility.

KSTP interviewed Ritchie. It would have been humorous, if not so sad. When confronted with ballots to review, Ritchie said he should have been asked to bring his glasses to the interview. I’m serious. He was then confronted with the fact that different standards were applied to ballots, depending upon the location of the election official. Ritchie would not admit that this is a problem or constituted an irregularity. He also said he would not look at photocopies of ballots to determine whether there were problems.
Proposal won’t help 2008 occurrences
Ritchie knows that areas where absentee ballots were excluded for irregularities were likely to be in areas favorable to Coleman. The areas in which almost any ballot was accepted were favorable to Franken. Instead of honestly acknowledging the very real problems demonstrated by KSTP, Ritchie released a proposal calling for the redesign of absentee ballots. Unfortunately for Minnesotans, this does nothing to address the appalling absentee ballot disparities Minnesotans were subject to in 2008.
Ritchie was elected after promising nonpartisanship and increased voter turnout, but he has failed to deliver on either promise. This past weekend found Ritchie in Rochester for a partisan DFL training on absentee ballots, and voter turnout is actually down since he took office. Perhaps voting is down because people don’t believe their votes will count under Ritchie’s “leadership.”

It’s clear that Ritchie failed to ensure a fair Senate election. The unfairness of the process almost certainly favored the Senate candidate from his political party. I think there is no greater threat to fair and open elections in Minnesota than Mark Ritchie, and that this incompetence and lack of integrity should doom his 2010 re-election bid.
Michael Brodkorb is deputy chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota.