Recount Q&A

Q: Who’s winning?

A: Al Franken. He wiped out the Coleman lead on election night during the recount and sits with a 49-vote lead. About 1,000 rejected absentee ballots are to be counted today by the Canvassing Board (they’re just opening ballots as I write this, however, while waiting for a court ruling). The state Supreme Court ordered some of the absentee ballots to be included in the recount. You can watch it on The Uptake Web site.

Q: Most of the absentee ballots are from DFL-leaning areas, so Franken has this election in the bag, right?

A: Not necessarily, but the process is expected to only add to Franken’s slim lead. Nate Silver of the Web site says the prevailing wisdom is that the absentee votes will favor Franken:

If it proceeds unimpeded, the counting of absentee ballots is likely to bolster Franken’s lead, as proportionately more rejected absentees were identified in counties won by Franken. If we simply allocate out the absentees in each county based on the proportion of the November 4th vote (.pdf) received by each candidate, that would imply 414 ballots for Franken, 383 for Coleman, and 156 for “other”, adding 31 votes to Franken’s lead.

(Update 6:19 p.m. Saturday: The lead actually expanded to 225 votes, according to The Uptake.)

Q: Can I play along?

A: Sure, here’s the spreadsheet of absentee ballots.

Q: What will happen after these absentee votes are counted?

A: At some point, On Monday, the state Canvassing Board will declare a winner certify the results. A winner won’t be declared for a week, giving the loser time to challenge the results. The results certainly will be challenged.

Q: And whoever wins will be our new senator who’ll take his seat on Tuesday?

A: No, the Coleman campaign filed a motion with the State Supreme Court to try to get 650 more absentee ballots included in the recount. Those are from primarily Coleman-leading territory.

The court may decide today (and, in fact, it might well have already decided. You can check the court’s Web site for documents here) .

Q: What’s the problem behind the problem?

A: The State Supreme Court. It now has to try to solve the problem that it helped create by an order a few weeks ago that many considered flawed. The court was asked to rule on whether absentee ballots that had been rejected (allegedly) improperly by the counties, should be included in the recount that the State Canvassing Board was conducting. The Supreme Court — without two of its members voting because they are on the Canvassing Board — punted. It ordered some of the absentee ballots to be counted, but left it up to the Coleman and Franken campaigns, and county officials, to figure out which ones. It was a nightmare scenario that’s turned into a nightmare.

Q:Who wins in this scenario?

Justice Alan Page, who gets to say “I told you so.” In his dissent, Page wrote:

The court’s order may seek the peaceful way out by asking the campaigns to agree on improperly rejected ballots, but the order does not guarantee that the candidates and their political parties will agree on any rejected ballots

Page saw the mess coming. So did everyone else.

Q: Who else wins?

A: The Uptake, which has emerged as Minnesota’s Town Square on this issue, and has made watching paint dry interesting.

Q: What’s the end game?

A: Coleman is now the underdog in this process and he’s on his way to losing the election. There are enough twists and turns in the two months since Election Day that a lawsuit questioning the legitimacy of a Franken victory is a given. His team is assembling grievances that would be part of a lawsuit. There’s also the claim that some ballots in this process have been counted twice.

Q: But Franken will be the senator until a court case works its way through the system?

A: Probably not. On Friday, a Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said he will mount a filibuster if Senate leaders try to seat Franken. It would take 60 votes to end a filibuster and the Democrats likely wouldn’t have 60 votes. There’s also a likely fight over Senate leaders’ refusal to seat Roland Burris from Illinois. It’s not the type of battle Democrats will want to have at the start of a new term, so they may not even try.

Q: Who is Minnesota’s other senator besides Amy Klobuchar then?

A: There isn’t one. The Constitution says the term of a senator ends at noon on the third day of January. That’s today. Norm Coleman is no longer a U.S. senator.

Q: Isn’t whoever is ultimately named senator mortally wounded politically?

A: Some people are already pointing out that the new senator will not have the support of the majority of voters, but with a strong third party in most races these days, most victors don’t have the support of the majority of voters. Additionally, the Senate is a six-year term and voters have short memories, especially when there’ll be plenty of votes taken over six years to define whoever gets the seat. Politically, in the Senate a vote is a vote and it doesn’t matter how a senator got there.

Far more important in terms of Senate power is the issue of seniority. If it’s Franken, he won’t have any. If it’s Coleman, he only has one term behind him.

Q: If this ends up in court, why doesn’t one candidate just drop out?

A: Because there’s more here than just the six year term of a senator. Whoever loses this race, has no future electability, especially if he’s the one perceived to have dragged this process through the courts.

Q: Why doesn’t Minnesota just have another election?

A: There are no provisions in state law for another election. It’s possible the Legislature will use this mess to clean up some of its election laws.

Q: Who’s in charge here?

A: That’s one of the things that’s been illuminated by this process. For years we’ve been told that the Secretary of State is the state’s top election official, creating the impression that there is a single person at the top. That’s not the case. Elections in Minnesota are controlled at the county level, so there are 87 different “people in charge” and 87 different ways of doing things.

Q: We’re the new Florida now, aren’t we?

A: Yes. What made Florida Florida in 2000 was that it became the butt of jokes. Minnesota has become the butt of jokes, the facts be damned. We can try to tell ourselves that we’ve had an open recount process and that nobody has uncovered evidence of wrongdoing, but people outside of Minnesota don’t care. Perception is reality.

One unrelated piece of trivia: During the recount 1,672 votes were added to either Franken’s or Coleman’s original election night totals.

  • Thanks mucho for this Bob. It really helps bring everything together and makes it much easier to understand. Sure is a good thing we will have new thing for people to laugh at us for, the T-Woves are getting old.

  • Duke Powell

    Bob, this is simply outstanding. I’ll be passing it around. Thanks.

  • Doug

    Ditto. This is a fresh look at things. Thanks.

  • Henry

    I’m in Tennessee. Minnesota is not a laughing stock. That meme, repeated endlessly by the people who don’t like where this is going, is not accurate. You Minnesotan’s are so fair you keep apologizing when you have not done anything wrong. Keep up the good work.

  • Great writeup.

    In allowing the campaigns to veto wrongly rejected absentee ballots, I wonder if the supreme court allowed cherry picking of votes.

    My question is if the name of the voter is known at the time of rejection, then can’t a campaign just reject votes that based on extensive voter tracking and polling, that the campaign knows voted for the other candidate?

  • Sara

    The reason the MN Supreme Court ruled as it did to incorporate campaigns and candidates in the review of ballots is because it essentially is part of settled State Law. The process was used in the Anderson v. Rolvaag recount in 62-63, and subsequently court calls made during that process became part of statutes as well as legal precedent. At that time (and I know it sounds like Roman History — for reference it was when JFK was President) the idea was that legitimacy of the outcome would derive from forcing cooperation and collaboration of the two candidates and parties in the process.

    At any rate the worst time to consider using the courts to change law is in the middle of a recount, which in turn is just an extended part of an election. However now that many see the misuse of this process — it may well be time to pressure the legislature to make appropriate changes.

    We need to understand that our Absentee System was never designed for “early voting” — it was limited to those out of country, out of state, the ill and disabled until just a few cycles ago. Result — we have campaigns encouraging early voting by their base voters, and in terms of numbers flooding the county elections offices with the necessity of creating early voting opportunities, without considering the impact on the whole system.

    We have had two serious problems with “early voting” already — spelled Jon Grundseth and Paul Wellstone. In both cases first the Republicans and then the DFL talked up early voting only to have many early ballots disqualified because both Grundseth and Wellstone had to be replaced at the last minute on the respective party’s ticket. Absentee style voting does allow early voters to change their minds and either vote at the polls thus canceling out the earlier ballot — and in both the Grundseth and Wellstone instances, efforts were made to mail alternative ballots to those who had already sent in ballots. But what would happen if ten percent of 2.9 million voters wanted to change a vote 5 days before an election? — The system would collapse.

    If we are going to do early voting, it needs distinct rules. But let’s do it with eyes wide open, understanding what is given up in the process.

  • Thanks, Bob, I’m definitely linking to this on an entry on my own blog on this mess.

  • bigalmn

    Too bad the campaigns did not agree to a new runoff election right away. It would have cost us far less and we would have two senators right now. Since it is just two people, we could have even gone without printing ballots. We could have just done a N or an A on a piece of paper. The if anyone put both an N/A on their ballot we would all know what that means.

  • Colin

    Illuminating. Thanks.