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Coleman-Franken recount appeal: Let’s get this straight — secretary of state didn’t fiddle with the process

From the very beginning, there’s been silly talk of mischief in the way Secretary of State Mark Ritchie allegedly selected the four judges on the State Canvassing Board, a selection that still affects the Norm Coleman-Al Franken recount process to t

From the very beginning, there’s been silly talk of mischief in the way Secretary of State Mark Ritchie allegedly selected the four judges on the State Canvassing Board, a selection that continues to affect the Norm Coleman-Al Franken recount process to this day.

The talk is absurd and ill-informed and has been inconsistent.

“It’s been all over the blogs, I know,” Ritchie told me earlier this week, with a big smile and a wave of his hand in resignation.

The dumb stuff rose again today when the Minnesota Supreme Court set its timetable for Coleman’s appeals process. The court sided with Coleman, setting oral arguments for June 1, far later than Franken’s side and his supporters wanted.

Echoing the conspiratorial whispers in the blogosophere over the past six months, yet another ding-dong commented this morning on the Star Tribune’s website: Ritchie “must have foreseen where this was headed, and thus preferred two T-Paw [Gov. Tim Pawlenty] appointed justices on the canvassing board, in the process removing both from any chance of being able to sit and hear the appeal. A master stroke that helps ensure the court is less ideologically right wing when it considers the appeal.”

To repeat the silly theory: Ritchie, a progressive DFLer, purposely named Chief Justice Eric Magnuson and Associate Justice G. Barry Anderson to the State Canvassing Board because Ritchie knew — via his special crystal ball — that:

(a) This recount would wind up in the Supreme Court.

(b) The two justices would recuse themselves from every matter.

(c) This would tilt the reduced Court towards a more liberal 3-2 split.


Here’s what happened, according to Ritchie and others in his office. Soon after the September primary, as a routine matter, staffers in Ritchie’s office began to touch base with administrators at the Supreme Court and Ramsey County district court. They were in search of State Canvassing Board members.

State law requires two Supreme Court justices and two state district court judges on the board. State law.

So, the process started long BEFORE the outcome of the election was known.

Rather than pick two Supreme Court justices, Ritchie’s office asked Chief Justice Magnuson and Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin to recommend colleagues.

So, it wasn’t Ritchie or any SOS staffer who picked Anderson or the other Ramsey County judge, Edward Cleary.

Indeed, privately, Magnuson and Gearin have told friends and others that they had no idea what they were getting into when they signed on to the Canvassing Board. Once Election Night ended, then they knew their jobs would get more scrutiny.

Plus, if you remember — after all, it was a looong time ago – it was the Franken campaign that first blasted Ritchie for naming Magnuson and Anderson.

In a statement soon after Ritchie announced the makeup of the Canvassing Board, Franken spokesman Andy Barr said: “The Coleman campaign and its political allies have been trying to claim that Minnesota’s secretary of state is just a left-wing partisan. I think we can all now see that their claims were just political posturing. Today, Mark Ritchie has named two partisan Republican Supreme Court justices to the state canvassing board.

“Chief Justice Magnuson was Governor Pawlenty’s law partner. Justice Anderson spent a decade representing the Minnesota GOP. And both were named to the Supreme Court by Governor Pawlenty, who has been an active surrogate for the Coleman campaign …”

Today, the five remaining “liberal-leaning” justices on the recount case issued a ruling: They agreed with Coleman on his timetable and denied Franken’s motion to speed things up.

Mark Ritchie had nothing to do with it.