Timewasters: The ballots

Between the cyber sales and the Secretary of State putting pdf files of challenged ballots online in the the U.S. Senate race recount in Minnesota, how much work is actually getting done in Minnesota workplaces this week?

We can’t resist, either. Our favorite challenged ballots:


Whoever challenged this couldn’t do so on the basis of an unclear voter intent, so they went with the rule that said anything that identifies whose ballot it was is thrown out. But unless the person ended the note with “Love, Bridget,” I’m not sure it’ll hold up.

Here’s some more.


So close.

More to come.

Courtesy of reader Matt Johnson (see link in comments), here’s a few more:


Yes, a real head-scratcher.


It is no wonder at all that some of the most learned people in Minnesota will have to figure a ballot like this out.


I wish I’d gone to the training that the candidates had for people who would evaluate the ballots. Otherwise, I’m left with only sheer common sense to figure what the voter intended on this one.

Update 2:27 p.m.


What makes this one creepy isn’t so much he voted for two Senate candidates (although that’s pretty creepy). It’s that he/she/it voted for four presidential candidates. And in the race for school board, in which he/she/it could vote for four candidates, this person only voted for one. (H/T: Steve Mullis)

  • I posted 200 or a ballots on flickr. Many, many of the challenges are frivolous and their only purpose is to delay the process of the recount. Even in the examples given above, the voter intent is quite clear even with my paltry judgement skills. But hey, I’m all for dreaming the election might come out the way you like. Just remember it’s a dream.

    -Matt Johnson

  • I went through 50 challenged ballots on the Star Tribune website, and came up with 18 for Coleman, 17 for Franken, and the other 15 were invalid for legitimate reasons. This is going to come down the the wire…

  • Bob Collins

    Wake me when they announce a winner. (g)

  • MR


    Do you want to be woken before or after the loser’s (inevitable) lawsuit disputing the result is resolved?

  • Bob Collins

    Good point, MR. Better just wake me in 6 years.

  • R Heikes

    Minnesota has voting rules. If the ballot is not filled out according to the rules it is a spoiled ballot and can not be counted. Voting is a privilege to be taken seriously.

  • Bob Collins

    R Heikes, that’s not EXACTLY true. There is no “rule,” for example that an oval needs to be filled in. There are rules ONLY that disqualify a ballot for certain reasons, most of which involve either something that can identify a voter, or for which the intent of the voter is not clear.

    There is no rule that if a voting machine cannot read a ballot, it doesn’t count.

    And actually, current law does not refer to an oval, it actually refers to placing an “X”in a box.

    And of the thousands of pages of election law in Minnesota, only a couple pertain to the actual marking of a ballot. One rule is that every voter MUST be offered a demonstration on how to fill out a ballot.

  • Karen Bourgeois

    I think this shows that most voters are too stupid to be voting.

  • boB from WA

    Stupid or not, it is still their right and privilege. if we start determining who gets to vote based on whatever standard is in place to decide who is or is not intelligent enough, then we might as well call our selves the South of the early 20th century (or perhaps Venezuela).

  • Mike R

    “Voting is a privilege to be taken seriously.”

    No, it is a right. The government may deprive a citizen of a “privilege” at any time, for any reason or no reason. Rights are something all people have by virtue of being human:

    “… all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

    The government does not bestow rights upon the governed, rather the exact opposite is true. The government has no authority to take away the right to vote over trivialities like filling in circles.

  • Dave

    Mike R actually it is only a right in local elections, there is no Federal right to vote. Please quote the exact part of the constitution where you find the right to vote

  • Dave

    I guess my biggest question is why is it when a Dem looses, there are recounts and courts and challenges and crying and nashing of teeth but when a Rep. looses they go quietly and try to win another day? Before you start crying I am an indepedant that has never voted along strict party lines..

  • Mike R

    There is no Federal right to vote, because there are no truly Federal elections in the US (unless you count the Electoral College). Each state conducts its own elections, and the Minnesota Constitution clearly states the the only circumstances in which the right to vote may be taken away:

    “Article VII, Section 1. ELIGIBILITY; PLACE OF VOTING; INELIGIBLE PERSONS. Every person 18 years of age or more who has been a citizen of the United States for three months and who has resided in the precinct for 30 days next preceding an election shall be entitled to vote in that precinct. The place of voting by one otherwise qualified who has changed his residence within 30 days preceding the election shall be prescribed by law. The following persons shall not be entitled or permitted to vote at any election in this state: A person not meeting the above requirements; a person who has been convicted of treason or felony, unless restored to civil rights; a person under guardianship, or a person who is insane or not mentally competent.

    Nothing in there about “not filling in the circle correctly.”

    Regarding the recount, it is required by state law in cases of extremely close results, what does that have to do with political parties?

  • Mike R

    One more thing, there are clearly several amendments of the US Constitution stating cases in which the right to vote cannot be denied by the States: 15th, 19th, 24th, 26th.

  • Bob Collins

    One might contend that the right to vote is contained in the declaration that “the House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states.”

    Taking that literally, that tells me that the people — not some of the people — get to vote.

  • Thomas J Walsh

    To reject votes because of ‘identifying marks’ or signatures strikes me as bad (unconstitutional) law. The ‘right’ to vote is just that an absolute right – it is not a mere privilege. Voter intent is all that matters. Also, all absentee votes must be recounted and for the same reason. If Al Franken wins the re-count, I hope he still goes to court to count the absentee ballots – even if he then loses. It is that important. To judge voter intent, it is often necessary to see the entire ballot.

  • Elizabeth T

    Dave – the Republicans were making just as much noise as the Democrats in Florida (’00) and Ohio (’04). It’s not which party, but rather being a party. Their job is to get their person to win (not to be ‘fair or balanced’).

    Right v. Privilege: The words Right To Vote need not be in the Constitution for us to have the right to vote. The Constitution, after all, grants the freedom of the press, but the right to assemble. I doubt anyone is going to argue about the press having the Right to publish, rather than just the freedom to do so.

    Although, I do happen to agree with the idea that it is an inalienable right, which cannot be taken away, not just a privilege (which could be).

  • captmike

    Looking at the way some of these ballots were filled out, the argument could be made that these people aren’t mentally competent, and therefore not entitled to vote.

  • Delaney

    What worries me is the assumption that those who do not fill in the bubbles correctly are therefore unintelligent or stupid. I think that it is easy for many people to assume that these ballots were completed by someone of a lower socioeconomic class, a different race, or with less education than themselves. It is therefore easier to deem these “others” to be stupid. We are used to this type of prejudice.

    However, most of our parents or grandparents did not go through school taking computer-graded standardized tests. Does it not seem possible that it was dear old Grandpa, who is perfectly competent, who marked those X’s? Does this make Grandpa “stupid”?

  • Oval-filler

    Just because you didn’t go through school taking all kinds of (ridiculous) tests with bubble answer sheets doesn’t render you incapable of reading directions, or looking at an example, and filling in an oval. You’d have to have other issues to miss that one.

  • miss tabeet

    Its scary to me to believe ballots can be possibly thrown out simply because the campaign believes somebody who voted for one party’s candidate for president (John McCain) wouldn’t possibly vote for the other party’s candidate for Senate (Al Franken) – particularly when the ballot is perfectly clear that they have voted only once for each position. So now the candidates can read people’s minds and know exactly how they were going to vote? If so, maybe they should use that power and not waste their money or time campaigning. Look at Alaska…clearly a Republican dominated vote there for president, yet lo and behold Ted Stevens didn’t win his race. Maybe becomes sometimes the candidate of your party is an incompetent fool????

  • Julia V.

    I’m amazed at the lack of basic common sense in this process. If it isn’t clear what the voter’s intention was, toss it! Or…maybe it’s just politics.

  • Steve C

    The only honest thing to do at this point is to:

    1. Have a run-off between Coleman and Frankin (Logistically and financially impossible?)

    2. Flip a coin

    You see, the measurement technique (voting and counting ballots) is not accurate enough to determine a difference of a few hundred votes (regardless of how much bubble they filled in).

    Say one of these guys actually had a 500 more MN voters want him to be our next senator. The method for making that determination would need to be accurate to +/- 50 votes for a statistical determination using a general rule of a 10X measure to accuracy ratio. There is no way, with 3 million ballots to count, a +/- 50 vote tally could be expected.

    The recount is basically a dishonest attempt to claim legitimacy to the election. It would be far better to accept that the election produced a statistical tie and flip a coin (I think I heard that that is actually in the MN Constitution)

  • M Miller

    I’m a little surprised at some of the postings on the blog. It seems just as ignorant to me that people don’t seem to know that the deciding factors on these ballots are INTENT and whether the ballot is IDENTIFIED to the person voting. In reviewing the ballots, I found almost all the challenges to be frivolous from every source as there were PRECIOUS few wherein the voter’s intent was not obvious and PRECIOUS few that involved someone using their name or initials. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why either Coleman or Franken would challenge a ballot when all the person did was WRITE IN their intent so it was clear. These are BAZAAR and STUPID challenges which disqualify both senatorial candidates as competent to hold office as neither has the common sense God gave a TURKEY!!!

  • M Miller

    By the way, I tried to view PDF files for ballots contested in various counties and your files are not operable. Only one ballot would come up from each file with no way to scroll to the next and scrolling u pand down with arrows produced a jerky movement that was both slow or didn’t move at all. You need to fix it!

  • Greg McIntyre

    There was a good opinion in the New York Times today that since it is a statistical tie, given that the margin of voter error is much larger than any likely margin of victory, Minnesota’s election law governing ties should be invoked and the winner should be selected by the flip of a coin. It is probably the most reasonable, least rancorous way of doing it.

  • Steve C


    Thanks for the tip on the NYT op-ed piece. I found it by searching “Minnesota Recount” on their website. It is by Charles Seife who is not a scientist or an engineer or a mathematician, but a journalist. However, he makes an excellent and, I would say, obvious point.

    I wish more “scientific thinking” people would become more vocal and outraged by this travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of…

  • p. a. l.

    I’m confused as to how there is a margin of error for counting ballots: either the vote is for Franken, Coleman, or the ballot is tossed due to identifying marks or unclear intent like two ovals filled in equally. There should be no margin of error.

    From my soapbox people need to take this right/duty to vote seriously and put enough thought into their choices that they make educated and sure decisions before they put pen to paper. The power is in our hands and we need to treat it responsibly, not voting for, say, the Lizard People.

    Also, a court needs to decide on whether or not to review those absentee ballots that were rejected. From my understanding the Canvassing Board passed the buck so a court would decide, not them. If the same people who challenged these ballots are making the decision of matching signatures they will definitely need to be checked.

  • JTP

    What some people do to their ballot is incredible. If you draw all over your ballot like an idiot, it should be rejected.

    The ballot directions CLEARLY state fill in the oval, then some use things like dots. Fools.

  • Mike Jefferis

    On the Talk of the Nation show about Minnesota ballots, a caller who identified himself as a retired inventory manager said that NO hand counting process (regardless of what is being counted) can be better than 98.5% accurate. One might add that in the whole process of voting, one should expect a certain number of errors in the way the ballot is marked by the voter. It would appear that the number of marking errors is very small, and that we need not assume stupidity on the part of those who made the errors.

    Of course, many voters are extremely stupid, but this is usually revealed by their choice of candidate and not by their ballot marking behavior.

  • Gil DeVincenzi

    Voting is to be taken seriously and should be well thought out before “making your mark” on an official document. From what I have seen of the examples taken from the ballots, some of the people voting probably could not fog a mirror nor would they have an IQ in the double digit range.

    Some of the examples are of a person (s) who just were not present when practicing one of the most important freedoms we possess. There are some pretty lame, lazy folk who crawl to the polls. Cheers.