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

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.

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 11/25/2009 - 08:16 am.

    Oh, come now. Still rehashing the Coleman vs. Franken thing. Really?

    So this is the GOP’s game plan to win the SOS seat in 2010? Good luck with that.

  2. Submitted by Aaron Landry on 11/25/2009 - 08:26 am.

    This is truly a low point for MinnPost. Brodkorb has been working on trying to smear Mark Ritchie for many years — everything from labeling him a communist to spreading lies about him on his whisper-campaign website.

    To wrap a KSTP report, which historically has leaned moderate to strong right-wing, around Ritchie neck in this method is dishonest at best. The whole point isn’t to give any new insight, the point is to use the medium for free propaganda to smear someone who’s innocent. If you look at the facts on Ritchie on this case, Brodkorb’s arguments are loony.

    I think it’s great to have party leaders have their voice and be republished in the media — but for a fairly level-headed group like MinnPost to so blatantly push this wacky brainwashy junk from Brodkorb is a real egg on the face both to MinnPost as well as to its readers.

    Very disappointing.

  3. Submitted by Ken Swecker on 11/25/2009 - 08:36 am.

    “The whole point isn’t to give any new insight, the point is to use the medium for free propaganda to smear someone who’s innocent.”

    What could be better free propaganda than having a partial SOS swaying cast ballots to favor Franken?

  4. Submitted by Stephan Flister on 11/25/2009 - 08:59 am.

    I just came to this story via my RSS reader. Had the title started with ‘republican blowhard says…’ I would never have done so.

    I just mention this in case you count hits on stories as a way to gauge reader interest. If so, then you are likely way overstating interest in what republican blowhards say. You might want to waste your time posting this sort of thing, but I don’t like being misled into inadvertently wasting my time by following the link.

    Better titles please!

  5. Submitted by Aaron Landry on 11/25/2009 - 09:05 am.

    Re: “What could be better free propaganda than having a partial SOS swaying cast ballots to favor Franken?”

    Every judge involved, including the Minnesota Supreme Court, indicated the ballots were counted correctly.

  6. Submitted by Ken Swecker on 11/25/2009 - 10:55 am.

    Were you this critical of the people who were so opposed to the outcome of the ’04 recount?

  7. Submitted by myles spicer on 11/25/2009 - 11:47 am.

    Brodkorb is exactly why the GOP is in a funk…and deserves to be. This election is now (or should be) in our rear view mirror. I would have greater respect for that party if they could start looking forward…put up some rational candidates…make proposals that help our state and nation. Instead, they carp about the past, and have candidates that offer nothing but negativism. They deserve to lose elections, as they did the Senate: fairly and with votes counted properly

  8. Submitted by Doug Koorman on 11/25/2009 - 11:50 am.

    The KSTP piece misses the point by focusing on election judges. In a race as close as Coleman/Franken, the ballots are reviewed by election officials and can be challenged by representatives of the campaigns. Did any non-compliant absentee ballots that KSTP identified get challenged by either campaign? Was the challenge improperly overruled (i.e., were improperly-accepted ballots counted, despite either campaign’s correct argument that the ballot was not legally compliant)? As it pertains to the Coleman/Franken election, that’s the real issue.

    It’s no surprise that the volunteers who do the work on election day and afterwards make mistakes. And that is why, when elections are close, we have recounts and allow representatives of candidates to challenge ballots that were improperly included in or excluded from the count. Unless KSTP can show that improperly-accepted votes also improperly survived the challenge process, there’s no story here.

  9. Submitted by Tom Miller on 11/25/2009 - 02:00 pm.

    Remember that the Minnesota Supreme Court, in a per curiam decision, found that the election and recount were conducted fairly and cleanly. That was the end of it. Let go.

  10. Submitted by John Olson on 11/25/2009 - 06:13 pm.

    The Minnesota Senate Republicans have been a minority caucus since 1973.

    They can essentially push a red button all day long, and rarely ever have to exhibit anything resembling leadership while collecting a decent paycheck, per diem expenses, and full benefits.

    During that 36-year time period, we have seen a variety of characters from multiple parties occupy the Governor’s office. The House has flip-flopped a few times as well, but the Senate Republicans have enjoyed ringside seats through it all.

    Replaying the Coleman/Franken election and obsessing on the Secretary of State (who, by the way, does not have a vote anywhere in the legislative process) tells me that we can expect more of the “same old, same old.”

  11. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/25/2009 - 08:13 pm.

    I would suspect that Mr. Brodorb’s rationale regarding Mark Ritchie and the Franken/Coleman election, will be better appreciated by the folks that regularly read his blog.

    Mr Brodorb’s claim is a red herring.
    The State Supreme court and Coleman’s lead attorney stated that the election was absent of fraud.

    If I were Mr. Brodborg, I’d be more concerned about the fact that his incumbent GOP Senate candidate did not have the kind of support that would have led to a clear victory. Instead of the tepid support that Former Senator Coleman managed to ended up with.

  12. Submitted by Matt Pettis on 11/25/2009 - 10:36 pm.

    Why is MinnPost publishing a proven dishonest hack like Brodkorb? Aaron Landry, among others at, have documented his journalistic transgressions. The subheading on my reader for this site reads ‘High-quality journalism for people who care about Minnesota’, but I don’t think that that is truth in advertising.

    Really, after reading Eric Black’s paean to David Brooks (even liberals like him? what?), whose dishonesty and other hackery can be researched at, and now this, I think I may take this site out of my RSS feed. You want high-quality journalism? Look to Matt Taibbi as a model, but this doesn’t pass grade.

    And don’t think that “if we are making both sides mad, we must be doing something right” applies here. You would be confusing good journalism that roots out inconvenient truths with providing a platform for poor journalistic hackers of opposing ideologies. The former is helpful; the latter is actually harmful.

  13. Submitted by John Olson on 11/26/2009 - 10:26 am.

    Matt, this is the “Community Voices” section.

    MinnPost is doing something that Brodkorb and his crew would never dream of doing: allowing an alternative viewpoint to be put into black and white. You may not like it or agree with Brodkorb’s views (I don’t).

    I also did not realize that you are supposed to be our guide for what is (and isn’t) “good journalism.” Let me do that for myself.

    It’s bad enough that the right isn’t tolerant of anyone else’s view, but when folks from the left do the same thing they are no better. Lighten up and move on.

  14. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 11/26/2009 - 11:15 pm.

    While I realize this is the Community Voices section, does that mean Minnpost will publish anything at all, and not subject it to any editorial oversight? Does there need to be even a modicum of truth in the submission? Does there need to be any news value whatsoever?

    “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.”

    Well, seeing how we spent months addressing the fairness of the election, and the court found the opposite of what Brodkorb contends is “clear”, how is this anything more than an outright lie? This isn’t news – its nothing but a cheap smear on the Secretary of State by a well-known Republican hack.

    Good journalism involves much more than simply letting all sides of a political argument air their views. That is just lazy journalism. Its fear-of-being-viewed-as-biased journalism. Good journalism, which is something Minnpost aspires to but has fallen far short of lately, involves a search for the truth. It involves checking and challenging the statements being made, and the motives behind those who are making them.

    Shame on MinnPost for putting this drivel out there.

  15. Submitted by Matt Pettis on 11/30/2009 - 06:56 pm.

    @Roznowski: Sure he would — that’s why he’s been given a forum on a blog dedicated to ‘high-quality journalism.’ He’s proven himself a high-quality journalist — never mind the partisan mistakes of the past.

    @John Olson: Well, I read a post on a site dedicated to ‘high-quality journalism’ who offers a platform to someone who has had massive journalistic failings in the past. And if I speak up about this cognitive dissonance, I get a post accusing me of wanting to be an assumed wholesale guide to journalism. No, I am not such a sage. But as my grandpa used to say: you don’t have to eat the whole egg to know it’s rotten. I don’t have to be an uber-journalist to know that offering space to someone with the track record of Brodkorb is antithetical to ‘high-quality journalism.’ If this were just some free site for anybody to post anything to be commented on, this would be fine, as no one is claiming journalism. But the folks here are making such a claim, and should be called out when claims and actions don’t match. Arguments like this one in support of Brodkorb remind me of this snippet from The Daily Show:

    CORDDRY: I’m sorry, my *opinion*? No, I don’t have ‘o-pin-i-ons’. I’m a reporter, Jon, and my job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other. Little thing called ‘objectivity’ — might wanna look it up some day.

    STEWART: Doesn’t objectivity mean objectively weighing the evidence, and calling out what’s credible and what isn’t?

    CORDDRY: Whoa-ho! Well, well, well — sounds like someone wants the media to act as a filter! [high-pitched, effeminate] ‘Ooh, this allegation is spurious! Upon investigation this claim lacks any basis in reality! Mmm, mmm, mmm.’ Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.

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