Surprise! Coleman-Franken recount process proves dull, dry and anticlimactic, but it’s working, so far

The Coleman-Franken recount process today looked like most administrative processes: dry, dull, ruled by Roberts and uncannily anticlimactic. If you want a sleep aid, click here, and watch today’s meeting of the State Canvassing Board.

Of course, we’re still at least a month — and maybe longer — away from the real climax. So, you’ll need your rest.

Because, process aside, the posturing will be tiring, if today’s post-meeting volleys are an indication.

After the Canvassing Board met, the Norm Coleman forces declared victory in the U.S. Senate race, even though that wasn’t what the board ruled today. The four judges and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie didn’t certify a vote count in the contest but only agreed that the race between challenger Franken and incumbent Coleman is within the 0.5 percent margin that, state law requires, mandates a recount.

“We do not know the winner . . . until the completion of the process,” Ritchie said.

The Al Franken side, 215 votes behind in the tally of voting machines, countered with this: “The only person who has declared Norm Coleman the winner of anything is Norm Coleman,” said spokesman Andy Barr.

Perhaps it was Franken recount lawyer Marc Elias who put it most succinctly for those of you scoring at home: “The scoreboard reads 0-0 with 2.9 million to go.”

(Meanwhile, KSTP-TV is reporting that at least 1,600 absentee ballots have been rejected statewide. That number came from a survey of 37 of the state’s 87 counties. For a map of the rejected ballots, click here.)

Recount starts at 40 sites, then adds 66 more
From Caledonia to Crystal, from Stillwater to Grand Rapids and at 40 sites in between beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday, the recount starts ticking. In the following days, another 66 sites will be in play.

The secretary of state’s office will be posting results on its website at 8 p.m. after each day’s recount, and that will allow political junkies to track the tally of each hand-counted vote and compare it with previously reported election-machine votes from a specific precinct, said Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann.

Wednesday or Thursday night, staring at the results might not teach you much. But Gelbmann allowed that after a handful of days of recounting, “You’re going to start seeing trends of who’s picking up the most votes,” if anyone.

So, if you’re busy this week, tune in next week when almost all of the 106 sites will be putting the ballots in piles: votes for Coleman, votes for Franken, votes for others, votes Coleman’s camp challenged and votes Franken’s challenged.

If you want to see where votes will be recounted, go here. (PDF)

You also can watch the drip-drip of history in person.

And if you want to see some more legal performances, go to Ramsey County Court Wednesday morning when the Franken side seeks to get the names and address of voters whose absentee ballots were rejected on Nov. 4. So far, county officials have denied them that data.

Today, during a 50-minute hearing, the Canvassing Board heard detailed reports about vote counts and certified all of Minnesota’s Nov. 4 elections, except for four — the U.S. Senate race and three legislative races.

It all happened in front of about 100 well-mannered spectators, most of them Capitol insiders intermittently checking their BlackBerrys in a wood-paneled basement hearing room of the State Office Building. Lots of TV cameras, but no boos or cheers. There was none of the tension that was expected, considering what’s at stake.

Canvassing Board already buried in blizzard of legal documents
Despite what Ritchie called “a blizzard” of legal documents that assaulted him and the four judges on the Canvassing Board only hours and, in some cases, minutes before the meeting, the key Franken issue was taken under advisement by the board.

As it has for more than a week now, Franken’s campaign wants previously rejected absentee ballots counted now. Right now. Franken wanted the board to include such ballots in the recount.

The Coleman side, citing rules, says rejected absentee ballots should not be part of this recount but only considered if and when the election is contested in court and after the recount concludes sometime after Dec. 16.

For today, Franken’s side didn’t win. But it didn’t lose either.

The board — including Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson — agreed to reconvene soon (Ritchie said “next week”) to rule on Franken’s request to include previously rejected absentee ballots in the recount.

So, the issue lives to fight on another day.

Exactly how the mechanics would work on this remains unclear; if a county recounts its votes this week but is told next week by the board to include the previously rejected absentee ballots, then, it seems, local election officials and observers will have to gather once more.

The Franken campaign’s lead lawyer, David Lillehaug, ominously asked the board: “Can’t we all agree that [voters] shouldn’t have to start a lawsuit or wait for someone else to start a lawsuit before their votes are counted?”

But Knaak said there was “no precedent” for what Franken was seeking; that is, including rejected ballots during the recount.

It is the stuff for lawyers, four of whom sit on the Canvassing Board, four lawyers in robes, four judges. They’ll make the call.

For a fuller stream- of-consciousness report on the highlights of the meeting, you can go here.

The major disputes after the hearing involved a semantics dance of whether Coleman has “won” — he hasn’t, not yet, anyway — and about exactly what’s motivating Franken’s forces.

Coleman lawyer Knaak asserted that Franken’s legal action before the Canvassing Board “is for an audience outside the state of Minnesota. That we’re basically being set up here for a Senate contest inside the United States Senate. That’s my perception . . . That’s something that most Minnesotans would find outrageous.”

Under this “scenario,” the Franken legal team — assuming Franken doesn’t win the recount — extends all the challenges and court dates into January. Come Jan. 3, according to the U.S. Constitution, it’s possible that a Democratic-controlled Senate could — long shot, to be sure — name Franken to the Senate. That’s the “set up” that Knaak seems to be talking about.

But Elias chuckled at such a notion.

“Our strategy is to let this process work,” he said. “We are confident this process is going to work.”

That was the marvel today. The process — slow, even boring as it is — worked. And that is the hope for the next month or so — that the process works.

Jay Weiner can be reached at jweiner [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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