Coleman-Franken Senate race was bad, but the recount process will be worse

If you thought the campaign for the Senate was slimy, hang on. The recount process is going to be worse.

The state’s Republican Party, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and officials for Sen. Norm Coleman’s campaign appear to be especially aggressive in sliming the integrity of Minnesota’s clearly-defined recount process and the election officials who will be counting the ballots.

Fritz Knaak, attorney for the Coleman campaign, was at it again this noon. In a news conference in which he announced that the campaign will have two trained observers and a lawyer at each of the 100 places where ballots will be counted, Knaak also said that the campaign is continuing to investigate claims of “irregularities” in vote counting.

Knaak’s comments came the day after Pawlenty decided to go low-road on the status of the Senate race.

Recall, on Monday, Pawlenty had this to say: “It’s really important to the integrity of the process and people accepting the results, that the process be fair and that it be secure and it be accurate. And some of the stories that are being circulated are quite concerning.”

Ah, just what we need: more cynicism in politics and government.

Wouldn’t it have been refreshing — and appropriate — for Minnesota’s governor to say that Minnesota has a tradition of honest politics? That he believes in the integrity of Minnesotans, including Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and election officials around the state?

Obviously, both Republicans and DFLers will be watching the recount carefully. Obviously, both sides will keep large numbers of lawyers in the state very happy.

But what purpose is served by a daily questioning of the honesty of the people who will be counting votes?

One DFL insider, who asked not to be named, said that these attacks are aimed at a very small audience, both state election officials and sitting judges who may end up making decisions on the outcome of this race. The theory is that if Republicans keep attacking, the only way people will be able to prove their honesty is to bend over backward in favor of Coleman on any questionable ballots.

To date, two Republicans — Coleman and the state’s Republican Party chairman, Ron Carey — have declared Coleman the winner over DFL challenger Al Franken.

Again, the message: If Coleman isn’t the winner when the recount is completed sometime next month, the election was stolen.

The constancy of the attacks from GOP leaders have helped fuel the anger of the right-wing talk radio crowd. Last week, for example, nationally syndicated howler Sean Hannity was declaring that “something fishy” is going on in Minnesota. He also impugned the character of Ritchie, who, Hannity said, has ties “to community organizers.”

In fairness, DFLers might be as paranoid as the Republicans if Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican, still was secretary of state. (She was defeated by DFLer Ritchie two years ago.) DFLers constantly charged that Kiffmeyer was attempting to suppress voter turnout in Minnesota.

And DFLers likely would be the ones crying foul, if it were Franken who was losing votes in the pre-recount portion of the process.

At his news conference, Knaak said he was only responding to the Franken campaign’s efforts Monday to have 461 rejected absentee ballots reconsidered by the Hennepin County canvassing board.

Those ballots apparently were rejected for a variety of reasons, including faulty signatures. But the Franken campaign believes that many of those ballots should be considered legit. It has runners ready to track down the people whose ballots were discarded and have them explain, under oath, why their signature on the ballot might be different from their signature on voting rolls.

The Hennepin County canvassing board, properly, turned down the Franken request and said it was turning the rejected ballots over to the state canvassing board. Depending on the outcome of the recount, those ballots could end up in court.

Again, it’s perfectly legit for both campaigns to raise questions about ballots.

But to continually question the integrity of people doing public service is absurd.

This isn’t Florida. It’s Minnesota. And it’s Minnesotans doing the counting, not Senate candidates. Most of us have more faith in the counters than in the people who are supposed to lead us.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/11/2008 - 05:36 pm.

    Sounds a bit like sports coaches working the referees. It’s what you do when you can’t win honestly.
    Are Coleman and Pawlenty afraid of what (besides miscounted votes) the recount process might turn up?

  2. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 11/11/2008 - 06:30 pm.

    I am confident that Minnesota law will withstand any charge of unfairness in the recount of votes in the senatorial race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken. And there are antidotes to the perception that this recount is unfair: openness, observation, and careful reporting.

    It is outrageous to suggest that anybody’s vote is “stolen” when what Minnesota law respects the most is always the voter’s intention. If the recount is done carefully, everybody’s vote will be counted, every voter’s wish will respected, and nobody’s vote will count more than anybody else’s. This is as it should be. Let’s do the recount slowly, deliberately, and openly. Don’t let it be done in the dark.

    I also think somebody ought to remind Minnesota’s two front-runners in the race for the US Senate that (1) the campaign is over (so please, please, stop your campaigning), and (2) the recount is not a “race.”

    Journalists ought to take these two facts to heart, as well. Neither Coleman nor Franken can “pull ahead” simply by having some of his votes counted sooner than those of his opponent, and it would be misleading to present “progress” in the recount in this manner. We need to report the recount as a fact-finding mission, not as a race. We also need to remind ourselves that neither Coleman nor Franken can “lose” his victory or “steal” it from his opponent, because neither candidate has definitively won or lost anything yet.

    We need to defend the entire recount against the charge that every change in the presumed “result” of the night of the election must amount to “tampering.” Sure, we ARE second-guessing some of the judgement calls that workers at the polls made late on election night — but that is exactly the point! Now we can re-think their decisions, with greater care and deliberation than time permitted on election night, and also with greater openness; and if we have any doubt, we can consult the voters themselves. When extra accuracy is required, and it certainly is in this election, this is the only right thing to do.

  3. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/12/2008 - 07:51 am.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122644940271419147.html
    Mischief in Minnesota?

  4. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 11/12/2008 - 08:10 am.

    Doug,

    It is amazing that such a high percentage of these “votes” are going to Franken. Are you at all curious about this?

    At least you included a short paragraph about “fairness.”

    I will try to find some of your editorials about Florida 2000.

    If this race has been “fixed”, it happened long before the recount takes place.

  5. Submitted by Jimi Damon on 11/12/2008 - 10:17 am.

    This is absolutely shoddy journalism. You have equated the actual actions of Senator Norm Coleman with *supposed* or apocryphal actions of Al Franken, who I might add has never changed his opinion about where he stands on recounts: he *always* supports them.

    This is an example where you, the press, fail miserably on the topic of being objective. This isn’t a 50-50 let the reader decide issue.

    You clearly stated that Senator Coleman and Gov. Pawlenty had tried to either stop the vote or make claims that the vote was unfair. Then you tried to claim that this was commensurate with “And DFLers likely would be the ones crying foul if it were Franken who was losing votes in the pre-recount portion of the process”.

    This is about fairness in elections and counting votes and your article makes it read like it is one of those typical “Washington politics as usual” pieces. How about doing a little investigation and find out whether votes are being incorrectly purged instead of doing this lazy-boy style of reporting.

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