The Norm Coleman-Al Franken election, already in overtime, could be going into double OT because of “The Case of the Missing Envelope.”
The Franken side is happy, and the Coleman is not.
One of five envelopes with ballots cast on Election Day – an envelope with 132 votes – from a precinct near the University of Minnesota campus is missing and, so far, can’t be found.
That’s why late today the Minnesota secretary of state’s office granted Minneapolis election officials “as much time as they need” to find the envelope.
That means, said Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann, until Dec. 16, when the State Canvassing Board will meet to begin examining challenged ballots and, ultimately, certify the recount and the election.
Here are the facts, as we know them.
Minneaplis elections official Cindy Reichert said today that an election judge on the night of the election saw all five envelopes of votes from Minneapolis’ Ward 3, Precinct 1, at University Lutheran Church of Hope.
She said two judges brought the envelope to the ballot warehouse in Northeast Minneapolis, two miles from the church.
“We have no reason to believe that there were not 2,028 cast in the precinct on election night, it is still unclear to us why there are only 1,896 paper ballots,” she said. “We still are looking for some answers.”
She said she believes the ballots are sealed in an envelope, with judge signatures on them, location unknown.
The other envelopes were thicker with about 500 ballots each. The missing one is thinner.
“We are in the process of looking under everything” in the warehouse, Reichert said. “I’m not sure exactly where it would have gone … We’re still hopeful we’re going to find it in some odd place … There’s a mysterious hole in the floor that we just have not found yet.”
“Highly unlikely,” she said.
She said she is confident with the chain of custody. The warehouse is secured, and representatives from both campaigns have been there, too, she said.
OK, what happens if these votes aren’t found?
When the Canvassing Board meets on Dec. 16, Gelbmann said, the city of Minneapolis would report both the totals on the tape from the precinct of Election Night and also the discrepancy of the 132 missing votes.
“The Canvassing Board would then have to decide which to certify,” Gelbmann said.
Mixing the original count amid the rest of the state’s recount, Gelbmann said, would be up to the Canvassing Board.
Besides, based on the way the voting went on Election Night, Franken won 55 percent of the vote in that precinct, according to the secretary of state’s website, with Coleman garnering only 30 percent.
Coleman lawyer Fritz Knaak reacted strongly in a written statement, noting: “We do not know that there are any ballots missing, and it is premature and simply irresponsible to suggest that they are. As a matter of course, we expect that our campaign will be consulted fully on this matter, as apparently the Franken campaign and the Mayor of Minneapolis have been by election officials, including the Secretary of State’s Office. It is critical that there be no effort to make this matter a partisan issue.”
Gelbmann said the city’s other 209,000 votes will be posted by Friday’s statewide deadline.
Still at issue are disputes over ballots challenged by the two candidates and over whether to count rejected absentee ballots.
That matter will be addressed on Dec. 12 by the Canvassing Board.
“We will continue to work to find these ballots … and make sure they are found,” said Gelbmann.