Board members unanimously voted to recess, most likely until sometime next week, leaving the door ajar to revisiting, in part, the rejected absentee ballot issue.
They discussed the possibility of encouraging local election officials to sort their piles of rejected absentee ballots into five categories: Four of the piles would contain ballots that appear to have been rejected for reasons cited in state statute, while the fifth would contain ballots that don’t indicate a legal reason for rejection.
But the board members balked at whether they have the authority to direct local election officials to count any votes identified in such a sort — and left open the question of whether the so-called “fifth pile” of votes would eventually be presented to them. They deferred to the Attorney General’s office for an opinion, which they expect to receive next week.
Board member Eric Magnuson expressed skepticism that any of this is the board’s job. “I don’t believe we have the authority to tell the election judges” what to do with rejected absenee ballots, he said. “We’re in the process of making a record for the next step.”
But board member Kathleen Gearin made it clear she is leaning toward taking up the “fifth pile” ballots. “They should be opened and counted,” she said.
Board members unanimously voted to reject the Franken campaign’s request that they include the rejected absentee ballots in the recount. During the discussion, they stressed the fact that they weren’t rejecting the merits of the arguments made by Franken’s attorneys.They also made it clear they’re fully expecting this issue to be litigated separtely from the recount procedure.
Board members are taking up the day’s main event: the approximately 12,000 absentee ballots that were rejected statewide, out of a record 288,000 absentees cast nationwide. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie called it “a significant number.”
Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson moved that board members reject the Franken campaign’s request that the board itself sort through the rejected ballots (“a purely procedural issue,” not a signal to the campaign that he rejects its argument, Anderson said).
During the discussion, Ramsey County District Judge Kathleen Gearin said both campaigns “have made arguments that are reasonable…The question is whether improperly rejected absentee ballots should be counted. It would be absurd to argue against that.”
She added: “Small numbers [or ballots] are becoming more and more important as the days go by.”
The discussion continues.
Immediately off the bat, board members took up the growing mountain of challenged ballots that will face them next month and made it clear that they want both the Coleman and Franken campaigns to whittle that down as much as possible.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said he had been told by lawyers for both campaigns that they are willing to sit down together and reduce the number of challenges and he and other board members strongly suggested that it happen before they take up the challenges next month. “It would be a very great benefit to the State Canvassing Board,” Ritchie said.
Added Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson: “We want to decide all legitimate challenges. We don’t want to spend time we don’t have looking at ballots we don’t have to look at.”
Board members stopped short, though, of passing a formal motion to that effect.
Meanwhile, the Coleman campaign overnight called for a truce on issuing challenges:
“It has become apparent that both campaigns are engaged in a mounting game of ballot challenging that serves no useful purpose. This is not the way the recount process was intended to work, and we are trying the patience and goodwill of election officials and volunteers throughout the state. While the Franken Campaign began this morning challenging 25 ballots in one Sherburne County precinct, the vast majority without merit, it’s obvious that our campaign volunteers felt the need to match these growing and unnecessary challenges throughout the day. This is an artificial game which has virtually no bearing on the outcome of this recount as we know that the vast majority of these challenges will be rejected before we even get to the Canvassing Board on December 16th. With that in mind, in the spirit of the Holidays, and to give respect to this process that it deserves, we ask you to join us tomorrow morning in standing down in the game of ballot challenge one upsmanship.”
During the canvassing board’s discussion of the challenges, a Sherburne County election official pointed to what she described as an unusually large number of challenges: 801 out of about 30,000 counted so far.