Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Mess that is Minnesota

Here's some of the latest from our good friends to the north in Minnesota. It's not pretty and is even messier than Florida.
DFLer Al Franken's campaign scored significant victories in the U.S. Senate recount Friday, as the state Canvassing Board approved the use of Election Day results for 133 Minneapolis ballots that can't be found and also recommended that counties sort and count absentee ballots that were mistakenly rejected.

But the five-member board revealed some fissures. That came when its two Supreme Court justices put the brakes on the apparent hopes of its two district judges to declare in advance that the board would accept the new results that include the previously rejected absentee votes.

The board chose instead to wait until those votes come in before deciding whether to accept them.
Here's additional comments that come via CQ Politics:
Democrat Al Franken’s hopes of unseating Republican incumbent Norm Coleman in Minnesota’s undecided Senate race got a boost Friday, with a ruling by the state’s election oversight board that could expand the number of ballots counted in the now weeks-long canvassing of votes cast in their Nov. 4 election.

The Minnesota canvassing board — which is charged with certifying the state’s election totals — met Friday morning and recommended that each of the state’s 87 counties review absentee ballots that were initially rejected as invalid, and submit amended vote tallies that include any ballots found to be wrongly rejected.

The ruling set off another round in a series of back-and-forth accusations between the two campaigns.

The Franken campaign issued a statement immediately after the meeting calling the board’s decision “a devastating rejection of the Coleman campaign’s attempts to stop lawful votes from being counted.”

The Coleman campaign, however, said the canvassing board’s ruling will only confuse matters further and announced it was filing a petition with the Minnesota Supreme Court asking it to issue uniform standards for sorting and counting improperly rejected absentee votes. It has also requested county officials put off reviewing rejected absentee ballots until the court rules.

“The confusing and overly expansive directives on how rejected absentee ballots should be treated by the Secretary of State’s Office over the past week leads us to the conclusion that there is no longer any uniform, statutory levels or standards by which legally rejected absentee ballots are being considered and reviewed in Minnesota,” Knaak said today.

The Coleman campaign also sent a letter to the canvassing board asking it to reconsider its recommendation, stating that a legal quagmire could result if it does not. “Input from each campaign’s counsel could have easily addressed these complexities and saved the lengthy legal process that we fear now appears inevitable,” Knaak wrote.

Another letter sent to election officials echoed the campaigns’ general concerns and requested that counties notify the campaign immediately if they intend to go ahead and review rejected absentee votes.

Franken’s lead attorney, Marc Elias, responded by calling the Coleman moves “extraordinary action . . . to try and halt this count and re-disenfranchise these voters.” And he disputed the notion that the counties lack standardized counting guidance, saying, “There is a uniform counting standard in Minnesota – it is the election code.”

Elias said he expected counties to ignore Coleman’s efforts to stop the review of rejected absentee ballots, however, and that the process would not be slowed.

The canvassing board, at its meeting, stated clearly that it does not have the authority to require counties to conduct such a review — something the Coleman campaign took pains to reiterate in its communication with election officials. The board said it is up to the candidates to pursue legal challenges to force the issue should any county decline to re-examine the legitimacy of the disputed ballots and count those deemed to have been wrongly excluded.

“We have made a strong recommendation and clearly we want every error corrected, but we’re not going laying out the specific ways that is going to take place,” said Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat who chairs the canvassing board. “The county canvassing boards have their responsibility and statutory authority to correct obvious errors, and we look forward to hearing from them as soon as possible.”

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