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Profile: Fritz Knaak
Fritz Knaak was a participant or observer in the following events:
An unsigned op-ed in the Wall Street Journal accuses the Senate campaign of Al Franken (D-MN) of voter fraud. Franken and incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) are locked in a race that was too close to call, and are awaiting the results of a recount (see November 4-5, 2008). Since then, the Coleman campaign (see November 10, 2008) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC—see November 11, 2008) have implied a variety of wrongdoings, including underhanded ballot tally manipulation, partisan bias, and even shadowy connections to the Communist Party. Some Democrats, the Journal states, are engaged in “stealing a Senate seat for left-wing joker Al Franken.” The Journal reiterates a claim by Coleman’s lead recount lawyer Fritz Knaak that the director of the Minneapolis Board of Elections forgot to count 32 absentee ballots that she had left in her car. The Coleman campaign attempted to get a judge to stop those ballots from being added to the total, the Journal states, but the judge refused to do so. The Journal also records a number of statistically “unusual” or “improbable” vote tally shifts that have combined to shave Coleman’s initial 725-vote lead to just over 200. The Journal joins Coleman and the NRSC in attacking Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN), whose office is overseeing the upcoming recount. It cites Ritchie’s own run for office in 2006, which was supported by, among others, liberal activist group MoveOn.org, and says Ritchie is “an ally” of “the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, of fraudulent voter-registration fame” (see May 2, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 18, 2008, and October 14, 2008). Ritchie’s “relationship” with ACORN, the Journal states, “might explain why prior to the election Mr. Ritchie waved off evidence of thousands of irregularities on Minnesota voter rolls, claiming that accusations of fraud were nothing more than ‘desperateness’ from Republicans.” The Journal expands its accusations to include the Franken campaign, which it says is “mau-mauing election officials into accepting tossed ballots.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/12/2008; MinnPost, 11/12/2008] The same day as the Journal op-ed is published, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) repeats the allegation about the absentee ballots being left overnight in an election official’s car, telling a Fox News reporter: “As I understand it, and this is based on news accounts, he claims that even though they were in his car, that they were never outside of his security or area of control, so the courts allowed that. It seems a little loose to me.” Asked by a Fox reporter, “What were they doing in his car?” Pawlenty replies: “There has not been a good explanation for that, Kelly. That’s a very good question, but they’ve been included in the count pile which is concerning.” Pawlenty mischaracterizes the gender of the Minneapolis Elections Director, Cindy Reichert. Reichert also says the entire story is “just not true.” The story comes from Knaak, who initially told reporters, “We were actually told ballots had been riding around in her car for several days, which raised all kinds of integrity questions.” By the day’s end, Knaak backs away from the claim of impropriety. A local outlet reports, “Knaak said he feels assured that what was going on with the 32 ballots was neither wrong nor unfair.” Reichert says that Knaak’s story is entirely false. No ballots were ever left in her car, nor were they left unattended in anyone else’s car. They were secured between Election Night and when they were counted. They were briefly in an election official’s car, along with every other absentee ballot, as they were all driven from individual precincts to polling places as mandated by Minnesota election law. “What I find ludicrous is that this goes on all around the state,” Reichert says. “If we could process them [at City Hall] we’d love to do that.” The absentee ballots were transported, sorted, and counted according to standard elections procedures, Reichert says. The 32 ballots in question were not counted until November 8, and both the Coleman and Franken campaigns were informed that the ballots were not included in the initial Minneapolis tallies. The tally for those 32 ballots: Franken 18, Coleman seven, and seven for other candidates or for no one. [MinnPost, 11/12/2008]
The campaign of US Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN) says that Minnesota’s Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie (D-MN), has displayed partisan behavior on behalf of challenger Al Franken (D-MN) by announcing that his office would consider counting some absentee ballots that were not counted during the initial vote tallies. Approximately 1,000 absentee ballots were not counted in the initial tallies, and Franken’s legal team contends that most of them were wrongly rejected by election judges. The initial election results triggered a recount (see November 6, 2008); Coleman has already implied that efforts are underway to manipulate the vote in favor of Franken (see November 10, 2008), implications previously made by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (see November 11, 2008 and November 12, 2008). Coleman’s lead campaign lawyer Fritz Knaak says that the Franken campaign is engaging in “Florida-like tactics” in the absentee ballot issue (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). For its part, the Franken campaign is accusing the Coleman campaign of resorting to “baseless charges and innuendo.” Franken’s campaign is attempting to ascertain the names of the voters whose absentee ballots were rejected, with an eye to having them reconsidered. Studies have shown that rejected ballots tend to favor Democrats, leading elections expert Larry Jacobs to observe, “With the voter who tends to pull the lever for Democrats, there’s a little less dexterity.” One voter whose absentee ballot was rejected, Mark Jeranek, says his vote was set aside because he did not sign the envelope into which he placed his ballot. Jeranek voted for Franken, and has received an affidavit from the Franken campaign, which he is considering signing. “I don’t want to be a cause for revolution, but at the same time I want my vote to count,” he says. “It’s kind of neat—at least for a senatorial race—that it really does come down to every individual vote.” [Time, 11/17/2008; Weiner, 2010, pp. xviii]
The recount process to determine the winner of the US Senate race in Minnesota begins. Incumbent Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) has a narrow lead over challenger Al Franken (D-MN), who requested the recount as permitted in Minnesota law when the results of a race are so close. The state Canvassing Board met on November 18 to certify the unofficial results, thus allowing the recounts to begin at almost 100 county and city election offices throughout the state. The procedure entails an appointed recount auditor examining each ballot by hand to determine the voter’s intent, monitored by representatives from each candidate’s campaign. Auditors will sort each ballot into the appropriate stacks. According to the 2008 Recount Guide issued by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, “a ballot or vote must not be rejected for a technicality if it is possible to decide what the voter intended, even though the voter may have made a mistake or the ballot is damaged.” Ballots that are in dispute will be sent to the five-member Canvassing Board, which includes Ritchie, two state Supreme Court justices, and two Ramsey County district court judges, who will make final decisions as to the validity of disputed ballots. KARE-TV has reported that as many as 6,000 ballots may have been missed by the optical-scan machines because of improper markings. Ramsey County elections head Joe Mansky says that around 2 percent of ballots are mismarked in each election. If the intention of the voter is clear, he says, those votes will be counted. Law professor David Schultz says the process reminds the observer of the election debacle in Florida during the 2000 presidential election (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), and notes that Minnesota has a long tradition of not penalizing voters for failing to fill out ballots properly if their intent can be determined. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/6/2008] The Canvassing Board says it will not make a decision just yet on whether to count disputed absentee ballots. Minnesota Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson, one of the five members of the board, says of the decision to table the absentee ballot issue: “I reference particularly the blizzard of paperwork that we have seen and whether or not there might be some additional time necessary to consider all of it. Is there anything about an additional period of time that will impact the rights of the parties to make election challenges or take other steps under the law?” Franken wants the absentee ballots in dispute to be counted; Franken’s lawyer David Lillehaug tells the board: “These people are real people who did everything right. They wanted to participate in our democracy. They wanted to vote and have their vote counted. Can’t we all agree that they shouldn’t have to start a lawsuit, or have somebody else start a lawsuit before their votes are counted?” Coleman’s attorney Fritz Knaak calls Lillehaug’s arguments “bothersome,” and says the board should not consider and count rejected absentee ballots. [Minnesota Public Radio, 11/18/2008]
One hundred and thirty-three ballots, stored in a single envelope, are missing from the warehouse containing the hundreds of thousands of ballots cast in Minnesota during the November elections. The ballots are part of a statewide recount (see November 19, 2008) to determine the winner of the US Senate race between incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Al Franken (D-MN—see November 4-5, 2008). Minneapolis officials are diligently searching for the missing ballots, according to Mayor R.T. Rybak (D-MN). The recounts are supposed to be finished today, but Minneapolis has been granted an extension to find the ballots. Franken’s lead recount attorney, Marc Elias, issues the following statement: “Find the ballots.… The outcome of this election might be at stake.” The Coleman campaign is alleging ballot tampering. “We do not know that there are any ballots missing, and it is premature and simply irresponsible to suggest that they are,” says Coleman’s attorney Fritz Knaak. He goes on to say that because Rybak, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, and many Minneapolis city officials are Democrats, there could be some kind of orchestrated effort to suppress votes to favor Franken. However, “It is critical that there be no effort to make this matter a partisan issue,” he adds. Minneapolis Elections Director Cindy Reichert says there is no evidence of any sort of “foul play” concerning the missing ballots (see November 12, 2008). Official recount tallies show Coleman with a 205-vote lead, but this number is not current and Franken is expected to gain votes, especially if the missing ballots are found and tallied. The missing ballots are from a precinct largely populated by college students, considered a group that generally favors Franken. [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 12/5/2008] Four days later, Minneapolis declares the ballots to be irretrievably missing, ending the state’s counting of ballots and moving the recount process into the next phase—canvassing the results and considering ballots challenged by the two campaigns. Ritchie says that the canvassed and audited election-night results from the precinct can be counted in lieu of the missing ballots, though it takes four more days for the Canvassing Board to come to the same conclusion. Counting the ballots adds 36 (later reported as 46) to Franken’s total. Coleman’s campaign says that there may be other reasons for the ballot issue, with a spokesman saying, “We would hope further review of these other scenarios will be conducted, rather than just accepting the political spin of the Franken campaign.” The Coleman campaign is also protesting some counties’ decision to review initially rejected absentee ballots. Franken is expected to gain votes if the absentee ballots in question are counted. [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 12/9/2008; TPM Election Central, 12/12/2008]
The Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously rejects a lawsuit by Minnesota Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN), who argued that absentee ballots should not be counted in the vote tallies that are giving his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), an edge in the recount for the Senate seat both are vying for (see November 4-5, 2008). The Coleman campaign, alleging that many of the votes were counted twice, has asked that vote tallies in 25 selected precincts should be reverted to their Election Night totals, which would blot out Franken’s lead in the vote count. The Minnesota high court rules that a question such as this should be reserved for post-recount proceedings, and says that the Coleman campaign’s theory of double-counted ballots is not supported by evidence. Currently, Franken leads by a narrow 47-vote margin. According to press reports, the lawsuit was Coleman’s last, best shot at winning the seat; with the high court’s decision, a Franken victory is “nearly a foregone conclusion when this recount finishes up in early January.” Coleman’s lead recount lawyer Fritz Knaak says that the decision “virtually guarantees that this will be decided in an election contest,” indicating that the Coleman campaign is not yet ready to concede defeat and may well be planning further litigation. “[I]t’s highly unlikely that one senator will be seated on January 6th,” Knaak says. Franken campaign spokesperson Andy Barr says: “We win in Supreme Court. The process can move forward despite attempts to halt its progress and cast doubt on the result.” [TPM Election Central, 12/24/2008; MPR News, 12/24/2008; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 12/24/2008]
Former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), who was recently declared the loser in a hotly contested US Senate race in Minnesota (see January 5, 2009), rejects the findings of the Canvassing Board that reported his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), as the winner, and files a lawsuit challenging the results. “Not every valid vote has been counted and some have been counted twice,” Coleman says. “Let’s take the time right now in this contested race to get it right.” The suit is filed in the District Court of Ramsey County, where Coleman hopes to convince a three-judge panel that votes were improperly excluded and included in the recount. Franken’s attorney Marc Elias calls Coleman’s lawsuit “an uphill battle to overturn the will of the people” and adds, “It is essentially the same thin gruel, warmed-over leftovers… that they have been serving the last few weeks.” Elias says the Franken campaign has its own questions about uncounted ballots. The lawsuit blocks Franken from being seated in the US Senate until it is resolved. Former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson (R-MN) says Coleman should concede the election and bow out gracefully. “I don’t think it’s winnable,” Carlson says, and warns that Coleman risks damaging his reputation by pursuing such a lawsuit. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says Coleman is “entitled to the opportunity to proceed however he sees fit. But for someone who’s been in the trenches on a number of these elections, graciously conceding… would be the right step. This can’t drag on forever.” Coleman says the issue is not about his winning or losing, but about fairness and accuracy in vote counting. Coleman’s suit will contend that the Canvassing Board did not apply consistent standards to challenged ballots, and both local election officials and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) counted ballots unfairly to the advantage of Franken. Coleman’s lawyer Fritz Knaak says the campaign’s lawyers are conducting their own “very real investigation” into the election, and promises that the campaign will present testimony about “double voting” in some precincts. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/7/2009]
Al Franken (D-MN), declared the winner of the disputed US Senate race in Minnesota (see January 5, 2009), asks the Minnesota Supreme Court to order Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) to issue a signed certificate to allow him to take his seat in the Senate. Both Pawlenty and Ritchie have refused requests from Franken to issue the certificate, saying that Minnesota law requires them to wait until a lawsuit by Franken’s opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) is resolved (see January 7, 2009). Franken’s petition to the Minnesota high court contends that one part of Minnesota law requiring the issuance of a certificate holds sway over the portion of law Pawlenty and Ritchie have cited. Part of Franken’s argument cites a court precedence saying that the US Senate, and not an individual state, must choose whether to seat an elected official. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/12/2009; Minnesota Independent, 1/13/2009] The Coleman campaign issues the following statement regarding Franken’s request: “Al Franken knows he can’t win this election contest based on the major inconsistencies and discrepancies that were part of the recount, and his attempted power play today is evidence of that. He can’t and won’t be seated in a seat he didn’t win, so he is trying this underhanded attempt to blatantly ignore the will of Minnesotans and the laws of the state. The totals certified by the state Canvassing Board include double-counted votes, inconsistencies regarding rejected absentee ballots, and inconsistent handling of newly discovered and missing ballots. These are serious issues that both the canvassing board and the Minnesota Supreme Court directed be handled in an election contest, and that will go forward as required.” Coleman’s lead recount attorney, Fritz Knaak, adds to the heat generated by the Coleman campaign by calling the request an “incredible and rather astonishing” power play, “an unprecedented and futile charade,” an “arrogant move,” and “an insult to the process.” He continues: “Al Franken is not the winner. There is no winner, and there won’t be a winner until the process stipulated in Minnesota election law has been completed.” When the process is complete, Knaak says, “Norm Coleman will be back on top and back to the United States Senate. No one, not Al Franken, not [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, not the national Democrats can declare a winner in Minnesota before there’s an actual legal winner.… Today’s move by Al Franken signals his desperation.… Our voters and our laws matter too much to let politics try to influence the outcome of this election.” The Minnesota high court will refuse to issue the order. [MinnPost, 1/12/2009; Minnesota Independent, 1/13/2009]
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