They marched in sober-faced, the weight of their special task in the democratic process riding heavily on their shoulders.
The audience of — oh, about 10 (almost all Capitol staffers and security officers) — rose in respect for Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea, Associate Justice David Stras and District Court Judges Gregg Johnson and Susan Miles.
They took their seats. The gavel banged. The Minnesota State Canvassing Board was called to order.
And, then, within about 360 seconds — more time than it took Gildea and Stras to walk from the Supreme Court chambers two blocks away — the board’s duties were completed, just like that.
It was an odd turnabout from 2008, when the Canvassing Board, under Ritchie, needed six weeks, not six minutes, to do its work in the Al Franken-Norm Coleman U.S. Senate recount, which was replete with challenged ballots, uncounted absentee ballots, Lizard People and Flying Spaghetti Monsters.
“Six minutes was an adequate time to carefully consider all the things that were in front of us today,” Ritchie said after the meeting. “Had there been a serious question or a close race, of course, this could take up to six months.”
The bulk of the meeting — about 300 seconds worth – was filled by a report from state Elections Director Gary Poser, who, shall we say, is a numbers guy. Poser became somewhat famous — especially on The UpTake web channel — for the mantras — nay, arias — he would deliver whenever vote tallies were conducted by the Canvassing Board or the election contest court in the Franken-Coleman recount:
“Franken, Franken, Franken, Coleman, Franken, Coleman . . .”
You remember that, don’t you?
Poser is the Pavarotti of vote counting.
Today, the one-time college math major spewed forth all sorts of data that had the Board members’ — and the small assembly of observers’ — eyes glazing over.
“The statewide totals were 606,394 voting in the election, compared to 419,000 in the 2008 election and 514,000-plus in 2006,” Poser pronounced enthusiastically. “And you’ll see on Page 4 that 39,669 individuals registered on Election Day, that’s higher than the 2006 or 2008 elections. And you’ll also see the column for absentee ballots …”
Those balalots added up to 31,276, if you’re keeping score at home, or about 50 percent more than the Ritchie had predicted before the election.
Poser added: “Turnout of voters . . . was approximately 15.93 percent of the eligible voters.”
After all that excitement, the board members signed a document or two, and the meeting was over. The board’s work was done. Pavarotti barely had cleared his throat.
Chief Justice Gildea had done this before, back in 2006.
“Secretary Ritchie runs a very efficient meeting,” she said, straight-faced.
The story goes that when the former Minnesota chief justice, Eric Magnuson, was asked by Ritchie in 2008 to be on the Canvassing Board, Magnuson’s administrative aide told him the task would take about 20 minutes and there would be cookies and coffee, to boot. In Magnuson’s case, it did not take 20 minutes.
The new chief justice was asked if she got any cookies this time ’round.
“We did not!” she protested. “I will have to write a letter.”
Countered Ritchie: “It’s the tightest budget times in recent memory.”
As for her six moments in the sunshine of democracy this morning, Gildea was asked if she would have preferred a more contentious meeting or election, something a bit more historic?
She smiled and said judiciously: “The Constitution provides for this process, and I am delighted to play a role in this process.”
Of course, 2008 was an outlier,and today’s short meeting was typical for the board. But Ritchie prefers to see the glory of the law itself that established the Canvassing Board in 1877. Those policy makers were “geniuses,” he said, who understood that this body would have the flexibility to meet efficiently for a few minutes in undisputed elections, but could take its time in emotional and high-stakes close elections to conclude, as Ritchie put it, “How did the voters vote?”
This time in this primary the results were clear. The next time the board will meet — and it could be the same judges — will be Nov. 23, after the general election.
The pressing question was answered by Ritchie, who, after all, is up for re-election himself. “I will personally bake cookies and bring coffee,” he said, “and we’re on the record.”