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Mystery of Dem-Repub Coleman-Franken positions explained

A “Capitol Notebook” piece in the Sunday Strib pointed out “some curious contradictions” between partisan positions on voting law in the Legislature versus the Senate recount trial.

But, perhaps hobbled by the goofy code that I call “the norms of journalism,” the piece stopped short of giving the fairly obvious explanation that explains the contradictions.

The “curious contradictions” are these. Dems in the Legislature are trying to change Minnesota election laws to make it easier to vote. In one specific example, with the state’s attention called to the difficulty that thousands of absentee voters had getting their votes counted, the Dems of the Ledge want to legalize “early voting,” making it possible for any citizen to visit a government facility before Election Day and vote, without having to do all the mailing, double-signing, and witness-getting required of absentee voters, and without having to swear (or pretend, in many cases) that they really couldn’t get to the polls on Election Day.

Republicans are resisting the change arguing, as the Strib notebook piece put it: “that allowing early voting and streamlining rules concerning absentee ballots could undermine the integrity of elections.”

But in the courtrooms of St. Paul, it’s Al Franken — the Dem — arguing that the Minnesota election system ain’t all that badly broken and it’s Norm Coleman — the Repub — who thinks the level of error that occurred in the treatment of absentee ballots rises to the level of unconstitutionality.

Concludes the Strib piece, implying that there is some mystery to all this partisan switching:

“So DFLers want to change an election system that (so far) has favored their candidate, while Republicans want to stick with that system.

Any questions?”

No, no questions. One of the annoying things about those norms of journalism is that a reporter who knows something often can’t find a way to smuggle it into a story where it has to fit the curious newspaperized definition of a “fact.” It’s one of the reasons I’m enjoying the online environment in my old age. So, let’s solve this mystery:

As a matter of partisan political assumptions, Dems believe that they benefit from higher election turnouts (and therefore favor most ideas for making it easier for people to vote).

Repubs have a larger core of perennial voters who turn out at all elections. Republican lawmakers therefore believe (with plenty of historical evidence) that their party will do better in low turnout elections. Therefore, they typically are more reluctant to reduce barriers to voting. That explains what’s going on in the Legislature.

In the context of the recount of a close, disputed election, it doesn’t matter which party you are in: The candidate who is trailing in the most recent count always favors whatever argument will result in the counting of more votes. (Franken, in the early stages of this post-election epic, was the one who first raised the argument that some of the absentee ballots were wrongly rejected.) The candidate who is ahead in the most recent count always believes that that count is legally, morally, constitutionally and above all politically acceptable. (That was Norm Coleman’s position on Election Day and remained his position until the day he fell behind in the recount.)

Mystery solved?

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Peter Lindstrom on 05/19/2009 - 08:47 am.

    Self-serving contradictions are what make the political world go round…

    While Team Coleman tried to get the courts to count the ballot of a jailed voter who was merely indicted but not yet convicted, Michele Bachman champions legislation barring indicted persons from having any voting rights whatsoever; Republicans in the Senate, who have proposed photo voter ID laws & numerous measures to block the counting of ballots in cases where a voter’s registration address differs from the one on a driver’s license, now support Team Coleman’s lawsuit that wants to count thousands of ballots cast by voters whose legal registration is dubious at best; & Democrats, who for years insisted that only the Senate has the right to credential its members & boldly asserted that right in the Abscam scandal & the Packwood incident, decided to forfeit their Senate rights to favor of a certificate issued by former Governor Blago–& now they’re stuck waiting for Gov. Timmy to do the same.

    It just proves that old bureaucrat’s credo: Where you stand depends on where you sit. (For those of you who don’t speak fluent bureacratize, it translates as: “Where you stand on any issue depends entirely on the views of the office where you are sitting.”

  2. Submitted by Burton'Jon Blackwell on 05/19/2009 - 09:22 am.

    Reader’s and Fellow Americans!…
    Our state is being denied its constitutioal right to guaranteed representation in the senate.
    We have the right to have two Senators, just like all the other states. The U.S. Senate has been functioning full-swing with only one Minnesota vote per issue. This violates our guaranteed right to two votes per issue. All issues voted on, in the Senate, since the 08 election, are illegal and unfair to Minnesotans. We elected Al Franken by a margin of 320 votes. Us Minnesotan’s counted these votes twice and Franken is our representation in the U.S. Senate.
    Minnesota voter’s are being contradicted by the court system. It’s not the function of our court system to appoint people’s representation to the House and Senate. We have elections and the popular vote determines who Minnesota wants in the Senate…not the courts. Coleman’s insane denile has gone far enough…and enough is enough! Us Minnesotan’s demand two functioning Senators in the U.S. Senate giving us our state its rightful guaranteed two votes in the U.S. Senate…as all the other states have. Besides, Coleman is linked to, and has used his position to sanction racketeer business practices by companies like K-Designers, Custome Remodelers, and Integrity Plus. This is the reason Franken won this election.


  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/19/2009 - 10:46 am.

    “Self-serving contradictions are what make the political world go round.”

    Lawyers are hired, and most importantly paid, to win cases for their clients, not to enforce neutral principles of law. I think it’s fair to say that the Franken and Coleman forces have pretty much reversed their positions as their interests in this dispute have changed and that’s entirely to be expected.

    It’s up to the lawyers to argue on behalf of their clients, it’s up to the judges to decide fairly what the law is. Let’s not get the roles confused.

  4. Submitted by Frank Bowden on 05/19/2009 - 02:47 pm.

    Although it is true that both candidates are looking after their own self-interests, I think Franken’s position has been far more consistent than Coleman. Coleman swung from suggesting that Franken should concede even before the legally-mandated recount took place and resisting the counting of absentee ballots that county officials determined had been wrongly objected all the way to demanding the counting of absentee ballots that do not meet legal criteria established by the legislature. Franken, on the other hand, always maintained that all legally-cast ballots should be counted.

  5. Submitted by Grace Kelly on 05/19/2009 - 04:20 pm.

    Do remember that Franken continued to support counting of absentee ballots after he was ahead.

    Also what you describe as partisan, is real differences in party values. Democrats, such as myself, still go out and encourage everyone to vote even when we are winning by huge margins, and there is no partisan advantage!

  6. Submitted by Jim Spensley on 05/20/2009 - 08:29 am.

    As I learned in a 1972 election and tried to fix through Secretary of State Joan Grow, there are two separate election issues with different statutes and case law: registration (eligibility to vote) and voting (preparing and submitting a legitimate ballot).

    Election day registration differs from “absentee voting” and the two procedures have separate issues. Election law provides for “voter challenges” that is, eligibility can be questioned and a person so challenged can be denied a ballot or their ballot held to be counted or not depending on a resoution of the challenge. The Legislature has provided criteria and a procedure for handling challenges at the polls on election day.

    Trying to apply eligibility criteria and resolve challenges is mixed up in the process for registration by mail and voting by mail.

    While I want every eligible voter’s vote to count and registration to be straight-forward, the system is incomplete. The processing of a registration by mail becomes subjective or routine, offering opportunities for both voting fraud and arbitrary or routine rejection of eligible applicants (who were not challenged).

    Election judges are insufficiently trained to handle a challenge of a person voting by mail.
    And if a candidate or official knew or suspected a person was ineligible, there is no occasion in general to issue a challenge to a mailed ballot.

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