Franken-Coleman recount: For a victor, wait till next year!

The 2008 U.S. Senate election became the 2009 U.S. Senate outcome today.

Stop thinking this thing will be determined today or next week.

And don’t be mau-maued by the mainstream media – or any partisans — into thinking there’s a five-vote margin now between Al Franken and Norm Coleman.

Enjoy your holiday. Go shopping. Stimulate the economy.

Check back in January.

That’s when either Coleman will retain his seat or Franken will grab it from him.

That became clearer Thursday when, more than six weeks after Minnesotans cast their votes, a boatload of stuff happened. Complicated stuff.

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled on the inclusion of previously rejected absentee ballots. Call it a split decision.

The State Canvassing Board heard from both campaigns on the matter of whether some votes were counted twice. A decision on how to deal with this conundrum is expected Friday morning.

Some mega-media web sites, such as the Star Tribune’s, claimed that following today’s session of the canvassing board, that Coleman’s lead has shrunk to only five votes … a questionable number, to be sure.

Let’s take a quick stroll down Recount Lane.

The Supremes
Nothing is simple in this recount saga, and the Minnesota Supreme Court made sure of that. (See “Order, 12-18-08) here.

In a complex ruling today, three of the five members of the Court who heard the Coleman campaign’s lawsuit Wednesday sort of sided with the Franken campaign. Justices Lorie Skjerven Gildea, Christropher  Dietzen and Helen Meyer said certain previously rejected absentee ballots should be counted.

That’s a win for Franken.

But the three-judge majority instructed both campaigns to come to an agreement on exactly which rejected ballots should be counted. They said the rejected absentee ballots should be addressed in each county and not by the canvassing board.

That’s a win for Coleman.

As to how exactly the two sides are going to agree on anything – such as the sun coming up in the East – remains unclear.

As Hamline University law professor David Schultz, an elections expert, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press Thursday night: “Why they threw in the stuff about the campaigns agreeing, I don’t know. It essentially gives the candidates a veto. It’s totally bizarre. It gives Coleman a reason to disagree with every ballot.”

Justices Alan Page and Paul Anderson dissented, the former NFL star taking the most progressive position that all ballots should count.

Statewide, there could be as many as 1,600 votes at stake, which is a ton in a race that ended with a margin of 215 on Election Night.

“We look forward to initiating this process as soon as possible,” Franken lawyer Marc Elias said in a statement tonight.

Tony Trimble, a Coleman lawyer, said he was poised to follow the court ruling. And Coleman campaign sources told MinnPost Thursday night that its side has “reached out” to the Franken campaign in hopes of beginning to figure out how to process the 1,600 or so rejected absentee ballots statewide.

Being a fly on the wall of those meetings would be a treat.

But here’s the most important stat: The Supreme Court gave the campaigns and counties until Dec. 31 to report back to the canvassing board.

Thus, it is certain now that this election will not be determined until January. The current Congress ends on Jan. 3. The new Congress convenes on Jan. 6.

Folks, we’re heading for the deadline.

As first discussed by MinnPost’s Eric Black Wednesday, there’s a dispute over some alleged duplicate votes, many in Hennepin County.

The Coleman campaign has alleged that at least a dozen precincts in Hennepin – and others elsewhere – may have been counted twice because of a flaw in administering some ballots.

The Franken campaign doubts that’s true but also notes that the Coleman campaign previously agreed that such possible double-counting is not the decision of the canvassing board.

The board heard 30 minutes of argument today from lawyers for both campaigns. The board seemed to be leaning toward siding with Franken lawyer Marc Elias; any dispute over alleged double counting should be reserved for a post-recount court contest of this election.

This, despite the admission by Minneapolis elections official Cindy Reichert – she of the disappeared 133 votes – that there have surely been votes counted twice in her precincts.

But to investigate all of this is out of the purview of the canvassing board, it seems. That’s what a few members said Thursday. More on that Friday.

But if the alleged duplicates are permitted to be part of the recount, that sure seems like another plank for a Coleman challenge of this recount if it goes Franken’s way …  where it just may be headed.

Franken closes in
OK, go to the vaunted Star Tribune’s website right now.

It claims that Coleman is ahead by only five votes.

It’s a silly number, but one that’s making the scene at the canvassing board increasingly tense. Lots of folks have their laptops fired up and are monitoring the Strib site.

It’s like watching the Times Square ball go down on New Year’s Eve.

For their part, the Franken folks believe their candidate is actually ahead, by four votes. That’s a position Franken counsel Marc Elias has held for more than a week based on his internal analysis.

But that five-vote margin, as reported by the Strib and some other sites, doesn’t take into account, literally thousands of challenged ballots that were withdrawn by both campaigns or the still in-doubt rejected absentee ballots.

Take it from MinnPost: That number “5” is meaningless.

Oh, it has political and spin clout, and it’s closer to the Franken campaign’s belief of where it stands.

But it’s not real. It’s barely a guide.

Remember, this thing is about January, not Dec. 19.

The scene
If you’ve never witnessed a high-stakes U.S. Senate election recount, it looks like this:

* Scene: your average hearing room in your state’s main office building on the Capitol campus. High-backed black leather chairs for the State Canvassing Board judges and their staff. A semi-circular table for them to lean on to prevent dozing off.

* In front of the board, on each side of the board, as in a courtroom, sit lawyers and staff for the two competing campaigns.

* Judges and staff at the front with quizzical and fatigued looks on their hungry faces. That’s what happens when you diligently examine 500 ballots filled out by people who are older than 18 but, for reasons known only to them, can’t fill in an oval with their pens.

* In the audience, a smattering of journalists all tapping emails to their spouses and friends in Tulsa on their laptops. They all know that what’s going on before them won’t determine who wins the U.S. Senate race. It will be a part of what makes either Norm Coleman or Al Franken win, but just one part.

* Photographers waiting for that one action shot … of the week, like when the chief justice of the Supreme Court examines a ballot filled with scribbles, seemingly by a third-grader, but by an adult from Plymouth, Ward 4, Precinct 20.

* It’s sort of like a very highly watched Woodbury City Council capital improvements subcommittee meeting.

Highly watched?

The UpTake, the nifty Twin Cities website, had about 2,000 viewers at 4:45 p.m. Thursday. The Star Tribune was showing the meeting, too, and garnering about 3,000 viewers as the day ended.

That’s 5,000 people easy who are being unproductive American workers, glued to their screens, turning Secretary of State Mark Ritchie into a reality show superstar.

If you want to have some fun, log into The UpTake and check out the comments. Thursday, as the Star Tribune’s website kept showing a narrowing Franken gap, the commenters at The UpTake were cyber-breathless.

“Only 10 more Franken ballots and he’ll be winning!!!” wrote one commenter.

“Will snow start to fall in a few minutes, once Franken takes the lead?” wrote another.

“This is better than the Superbowl … democracy 2.0!” wrote a third.

Sorry, gang, Franken can only take the lead once the canvassing board, the courts, and, perhaps, the U.S. Senate says he’s got the lead.

But these recount junkies nationwide are people who need to get out more.

They can’t be sitting around their laptops until January. It’s just not healthy.

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


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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 12/18/2008 - 10:50 pm.

    I watched a few minutes of the canvassing board Tuesday. I’m sure most watchers did likewise, so that 5,000 number is just at a given number. The important point is that while few will WANT to watch, anyone CAN. The process is transparent and no one can claim otherwise, whereas if it happened behind closed doors, would anyone trust the result? So kudos to the canvassing board for allowing themselves to be streamed, to the Star Tribune and Uptake for giving their bandwidth, and to whoever has been watching to make sure for the rest of us that everything is on the up and up.

    As for the process dragging out, if this was Florida or some other states, we would still be fighting over whether there would even be recount, and who would pay for it, and what the standards would be. The holes we’re finding are really dinky compared to tens of thousands of voters being wrongly purged or machines with punchcard-like error rates.

  2. Submitted by Craig Huber on 12/19/2008 - 07:45 am.

    “Sorry, gang, Franken can only take the lead once the canvassing board, the courts, and, perhaps, the U.S. Senate says he’s got the lead.”

    The same statement applies to Coleman. He can’t claim the lead until the entire process is over, either (despite the fact that he has been for nearly 2 months).

    This is, logically, a tied ball game: claiming anything else until the counting and lawsuits are _settled_ is premature at best, hyper-partisan antics at worst.

  3. Submitted by David Brown on 12/19/2008 - 08:17 am.

    Even though (or perhaps rather, especially because) I’m a psychotherapist (I try to de-emphasize the first part of that title) I’m not prepared to defend myself with regard to either of those assertions, but I might point out that there is another perspective on this issue, although it doesn’t necessarily invalidate your conclusions.

    This whole process provides an excellent opportunity to witness, and learn much about, human behavior in a concentrated form that is too tempting to disregard for some people who have an interest in such issues.

    Let me cite a couple of those. Certainly, the organization of this whole process is impressive in and of itself, but the way it has evolved is particularly interesting and instructive as well.

    The openness of, and commitment of the Canvassing Board to transparency, as well as to thoughtful deliberation, has demonstrated the value of those attitudes in generating widespread acceptance of their process, even though it may not always be entirely consistent in its application.

    The many, sometimes very creative, ways in which various voters expressed themselves through a relatively straightforward process of casting votes, that, on its surface does not appear to offer much opportunity for personal expression, is a tribute to the adaptability and irrepressibility of the human creative spirit.

    Another fascinating exercise for me, is to try to decipher the interaction of perception, confusion of interpretation, physical challenges, and perhaps other factors, in contributing to the difficulty some have of clearly communicating their intent in ways that are transparent to others.

    Perhaps the most fascinating part, in some respects, is the opportunity to witness the often subtle and almost imperceptible, but often stunningly evident, ways in which our subconscious can express itself, in spite of the many forces which try to repress it.

    This is also a valuable opportunity to observe the power of humor to humanize and defuse a potentially contentious process.

    All in all this process presents such a rich environment for insight into a variety of aspects of human behavior that I, for one, find it difficult to resist.

    But, of course, that may all simply be a rationalization of a desire to procrastinate about fulfilling other obligations on my part, or some other unsavory aspect of my behavior.

    Ultimately, who knows, and does it really matter in the grand scheme of things?

  4. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 12/19/2008 - 02:54 pm.

    It could have been worse, I suppose, but I have to say I’m a little disappointed with the decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court to instruct “both campaigns to come to an agreement on exactly which rejected ballots should be counted.” If this is all the Supremes can say, what are they for, anyway? But the dissenting Justices Alan Page and Paul Anderson should be commended for standing up for voters’ rights.

    By the way, am I the only one who notices a crass inconsistency between the demand for a uniform standard in ballot counting on the one hand and the tradition of absolute sovereignty for each county on the other? Somebody needs to tell our state legislators that uniform standards have to be defined at the state level, or they won’t really exist. I would of course prefer that these standards be duly written in law, rather than left up to the State Canvassing Board to decide at the last minute.

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