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Profile: Minnesota State Canvassing Board
Minnesota State Canvassing Board was a participant or observer in the following events:
The campaign of US Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN) issues a press release claiming that Coleman’s victory is “confirmed.” Coleman’s press release is erroneous. Coleman’s campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan, issues a similarly erroneous statement that says: “Senator Coleman has, for the third time, been named the winner of the 2008 election. We look forward to the beginning of tomorrow’s recount, and to what we believe to be the ultimate conclusion of the final chapter of this year’s election—the re-election of Senator Norm Coleman.” Far from being confirmed, the recount procedure involving Coleman and his opponent Al Franken (D-MN) has not officially begun (see November 4-5, 2008). It is unclear what basis Coleman has for claiming victory, and no official entity has confirmed Coleman’s victory in the race. Franken’s campaign also issues a release announcing that the recount procedure is about to commence, noting accurately that the State Canvassing Board has refused to certify a winner and stating the campaign’s intention to support the recount. [Minnesota Independent, 11/18/2008; New York Times, 11/18/2008] MSNBC reports that Coleman “is trying to look the part of the winner [in order to be able to] call into question any lead taken by Franken in the recount.” [MSNBC, 11/19/2008] Three days later, liberal reporter Eric Hananoki will write that Coleman is going beyond taking “premature victory laps” by demanding a halt to the recount, “float[ing] false voter fraud stories,” and “smear[ing] election officials” (see November 10, 2008, November 11, 2008, and November 12, 2008). [Huffington Post, 11/21/2008]
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]
As the recount in the US Senate race in Minnesota (see November 19, 2008) wears on, incumbent Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) gains a number of votes in the preliminary results, widening his lead to 180 votes from a previous total of 120. Coleman’s campaign observers are challenging many of the ballots granted to challenger Al Franken (D-MN) during the recount, forcing those ballots to be set aside and considered by the state Canvassing Board at a later date. Some mistakes were made in Duluth precincts, slowing the results from St. Louis County, including the discovery that several duplicate ballots were missing from one precinct. In Minneapolis, over 100 people are working in a warehouse building to count votes. Franken is leading Coleman by wide margins in almost all Minneapolis precincts. Coleman campaign observer Corlyss Affeldt says she is volunteering as an observer because “I want to make sure it’s right.… That seems to be the prevailing motivation right now.” [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/22/2008]
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]
US Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) is confirmed as the winner of the Minnesota Senate race over incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) after over a month of vote recounting and legal maneuvering by both sides. Coleman was initially declared the winner, but Franken immediately requested a recount, as the vote margin was very close (see November 4-5, 2008). Franken is declared the winner by 225 votes out of 2.9 million cast. The final totals: Franken with 1,212,431 votes and Coleman with 1,212,206 votes. Third-party candidate Dean Barkley also garnered a significant number of votes. Coleman says he intends to file a lawsuit challenging the results, blocking Franken from being seated in the Senate. Coleman’s attorney Tony Trimble says: “This process isn’t at an end. It is now just at the beginning.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The race in Minnesota is not over.” Franken says, “After 62 days of careful and painstaking hand-inspection of nearly 3 million ballots, after hours and hours of hard work by election officials and volunteers around the state, I am proud to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota.” Both sides mounted an aggressive challenge to votes, with campaign officials challenging thousands of ballots during the recounts. Franken made headway when election officials opened and counted some 900 ballots that had erroneously been disqualified on Election Day. Coleman says some ballots were mishandled and others were wrongly excluded from the recount, thus denying him the victory. His loss was made certain when the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to change the totals of the recount (see December 24, 2008). The state Canvassing Board, the entity in charge of the recounts, votes unanimously to accept the totals as final. Franken’s lawyer Mark Elias says of Coleman’s promised court fight: “Former Senator Coleman has to make a decision. And it is a profound decision, one that he has to look into his heart to make: Whether or not he wants to be the roadblock to the state moving forward and play the role of a spoiler or sore loser or whether he wants to accept what was a very close election.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says, “The race in Minnesota is over,” and calls Republican efforts to continue challenging the result “only a little finger pointing.” However, a spokesperson for Reid says Franken will not be seated when Congress convenes later in the week. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) warns that any attempt to seat Franken would result in “chaos.” Trimble says that the recount was handled poorly, and there “can be no confidence” in the result. The seat will remain unfilled until Coleman’s legal challenge is settled. [Bloomberg, 1/5/2009; Associated Press, 1/6/2009; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/6/2009] Republicans in the Minnesota legislature have speculated on the possibility of Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) appointing someone, presumably a Republican, to take the Senate seat on a temporary basis while the recount plays out, but Democrats, who hold the majority in the legislature, say they will block any such efforts. Legal experts say Pawlenty’s legal authority to make such an appointment is dubious at best. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/6/2009] Later press reports will state that Franken’s margin of victory was 312 votes, after a judicial panel reviews the recount totals. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 4/22/2009] Coleman files a lawsuit to block Franken’s victory (see January 7, 2009).
Entity Tags: Dean Barkley, Harry Reid, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Al Franken, John Cornyn, Minnesota Supreme Court, Tony Trimble, Mitch McConnell, Norm Coleman, Tim Pawlenty, Mark Elias
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
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]
Liberal author and columnist Joe Conason says that conservatives accusing Minnesota Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) of stealing the election from opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) should show genuine evidence of voter fraud “or shut up.” Franken was recently declared the winner of the US Senate race by a narrow margin of votes (see January 5, 2009). Conason cites a raft of radio and television talk show hosts such as Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, and conservative billionaires such as Richard Mellon Scaife, who have been “scream[ing] that Franken is stealing, rigging, pilfering, scamming, thieving, and cheating his way to victory” without advancing any proof, and “in plain contradiction of the available facts.” Conason writes, “Not only is there no evidence that Franken or his campaign ‘cheated’ in any way during the election or the recount, but there is ample reason to believe that the entire process was fair, balanced, and free from partisan taint.” Conason cites claims by Limbaugh on January 5 that Franken “stole the race,” and quotes Limbaugh as saying on that same broadcast: “They are stealing the race up there blind in front of everybody’s nose. They are counting absentee ballots [which election officials are required to do by law].… They’re counting votes twice—votes that were rejected, all kinds of things [which election officials ordered after determining that some votes were rejected wrongly]. That’s just—the Democrats are stealing the election up there.” (The material in brackets is inserted by Conason.) Conason goes on to quote Republican political consultant Dick Morris, who appeared on O’Reilly’s show on January 7 and claimed: “I think there’s funny business—funny business going on in Franken’s thing. Sure, he’s cheating, and sure that Minnesota’s doing it for him. I mean, there’s no question that there’s cheating going on.… This is outright larceny. This is just a total theft.” Conason calls Morris’s accusations “incendiary,” and notes that like Limbaugh, Morris advanced no evidence to support his claims. As for O’Reilly, he has written columns on Newsmax asking readers to donate to the Republican National Lawyers Association to “stop Franken from stealing the election”; that organization is raising money to assist in Coleman’s election lawsuit (see January 7, 2009). Conason writes that the Canvassing Board, the bipartisan entity that decided the race in Franken’s favor, was “impeccably nonpartisan,” and continues, “Nobody in their right mind in Minnesota believes that the board was biased.” He cites conservative blogger Scott Johnson as saying: “There was no noticeable partisan division among the board. Minnesotans are justifiably proud of the transparency and fairness of their work.” Conason concludes: “In essence, [the right-wing pundits] have accused my friend Franken of a felony under Minnesota law. If they know of any evidence that would show he has stolen votes or violated any election statute, let them report it to the state law enforcement authorities. And if they don’t, perhaps they will at last have the decency to shut up.” [Salon, 1/9/2009]
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]
The lawsuit filed by former Senator Norm Coleman to block Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) from taking his seat in the US Senate (see January 7, 2009) is scheduled to begin on January 26. A three-judge panel will consider Coleman’s case and whether to reverse the findings of the state Canvassing Board, which declared Franken the winner (see January 5, 2009). [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/16/2009]
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