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Recount data redux: Pawlenty misspeaks big time

During a conference call dealing with election registration issues, Gov. Tim Pawlenty last week made several misstatements about the Al Franken-Norm Coleman recount that need correcting.

As he raises his national visibility with speeches, television appearances and other public statements, speculation grows that Gov. Tim Pawlenty will run for president in 2012. This is one of an occasional series of articles that examine Pawlenty’s statements about his work in Minnesota and topics of national interest.

Pawlenty Watch

During a conference call dealing with election registration issues, Gov. Tim Pawlenty last week made several misstatements about the Al Franken-Norm Coleman recount that need correcting.

Indeed, when asked Monday by MinnPost about the governor’s comments, his deputy chief of staff, Brian McClung, said that “Governor Pawlenty had been provided some incorrect information regarding the numbers of absentee voters in 2006 and 2008.”

It all started when Pawlenty asserted last week in a conference call with reporters that absentee ballot voting in Minnesota during the 2008 election increased by “3,000 percent” over 2006. And he raised suspicions about the cause of such a spike in absentee voting.

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The governor, though, was way off.

David Weigel wrote at the Washington Independent, a sister site to the Minnesota Independent, that the conference call morphed from voter registration issues into a discussion about the Senate election’s controversial absentee ballots.

Pawlenty said that “all the problems in Minnesota in the Franken-Coleman [Senate] race related to the absentee ballot process.”

According to the Weigel story, the governor said: “I’ve been told that in 2006 there were 12,000 absentee ballots cast in our state. That’s a high number based on a historical number, so keep that in mind, 12,000 in 2006. In 2008, there were almost 300,000 absentee ballots cast in our state. Now this is a process where people are supposed to use absentee ballots because they’re unavailable in their voting area on Election Day because they’re out of the state, they’re on business travel, or they’re medically or physically unable to show up.

“So you can see in a presidential race, you know, an increase of say 10 percent or 20 percent or something like that from 2006. But what you saw is approaching this 3,000 percent increase, in absentee voting in Minnesota … obviously something very extraordinary occurred, and what occurred is you had grass-roots organizations come in here and use the absentee ballot process as a substitute for voting by mail. And, almost all of the problems … in the Franken-Coleman case come out of these absentee ballots.”

Here are the facts, according to official state records:

• For the 2008 general election, there were 2.92 million voters and 293,830 absentee ballots.

• For the 2006 general election — a non-presidential year — there were 2.21 million Minnesota voters and 146,529 absentee ballots — an increase in 2008 of about 100 percent, not 3,000 percent.

In an email, McClung told MinnPost: “From 2006 to 2008 there was a 100 percent increase in the number of absentee voters, a significant boost, especially in light of Senator Franken’s 312 vote margin.”

But, more to the point, for the
2004 general election — a presidential year in which Republican President George W. Bush was re-elected — 2.84 million Minnesotans voted, with 231,711 of them using absentee ballots.

So, comparing apples with apples, the number of absentee voters from one presidential election to another increased by about 62,000, or 27 percent … somewhat short of 3,000 percent. Much of that had to do with an all-out effort by the Barack Obama campaign for early voting in anticipation of a huge turnout on Election Day, which materialized, but not to the extent that even the Obama folks hoped.

Pawlenty then referenced “grass-roots organizations,” perhaps an errant implication to ACORN. Those allegations are rooted in Katherine Kersten’s Star Tribune column last month, which has been adequately shot down by responsible observers, such as MinnPost’s own Eric Black but not by such conspiracy theorists as Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.

By the way, that 12,000 figure that Pawlenty mentioned was the approximate number of rejected absentee ballots — that is, ballots that didn’t fulfill key legal requirements and thus weren’t counted.

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