November 2008

Live-blogging: State Canvassing Board

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

10:27 a.m.:

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.

10:10 a.m.:

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.

10 a.m.:

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.

9:45 a.m.:

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.

Tidbits from the recount trail

Monday, November 24th, 2008

After a day of rest Sunday, the recounters resumed their recounting this morning, with reports from St. Louis County and St. Paul that the finish line may be within sight by day’s end.

In Ramsey County (where the remainder of the county still remains to be recounted), a modest kerfluffle reared its head this morning, staff writer Curt Brown reported. Here’s his account:

A discrepancy over the number of ballots in a box and the number recorded on a computer tape from Election Day prompted a lcontroversy this morning at the Senate recount underway in Ramsey County. There were eight fewer ballots in the box from St. Paul’s Ward Five-Precinct Eight than recorded on Nov. 4.

Election judges counted the ballots three times before resealing the box amid protests from the Franken observers. Franken lost six votes in the precinct compared to Election Night. Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky said it’s possible election judges in the precinct, located on the northern edge of St. Paul bordering Maplewood, might have inadvertently run some ballots through twice. Franken won the precinct, so his forces lodged a protest. Mansky said they can only count what is in the box, and suggested Franken officials take the matter to court if they think something unfair has occurred.

“This is a high concern for us because there was a count on Election Night and now there are missing ballots,” said Ryan Greenwood, a Franken campaign worker at the Ramsey County recount site on Plato Blvd.
Franken representatives pushed county election judges to check the unused blank ballots and the duplicate envelope from the precinct, which turned up nothing. They wanted to check the warehouse and voting machines and Mansky assured them those locations had been checked.
Franken officials wants to verify those searches with Coleman observers, but Mansky declined that request.

Mansky said recounters are on pace to finish tallying ballots from St. Paul’s 104 precincts today.

UPDATE: Here’s the scene from St. Louis County, courtesy of staff writer Larry Oakes:

St. Louis County recounted five large precincts this morning, though difficulties with some Duluth precincts last week raised doubts that the county’s recount could finish today after five days, as originally planned.

On Friday, 74 ballots representing a mix of Franken and Coleman votes were discovered missing from a Duluth precinct packet when county officials opened it. The ballots were located inside a vote counting machine locked in a city warehouse. When counted, the total of ballots and votes matched the electronic count from election night, and observers from both sides said they were satisfied it was an honest mistake.

More mistakes became apparent Saturday, when several duplicate ballots were found to be missing from envelopes turned in by Duluth Precinct 18. These are ballots election judges are supposed to create and mark, to correspond to ballots that can’t be fed into counting machines because the ballots are folded or otherwise damaged.

The precinct’s packet had originals, but not enough corresponding duplicates. Paul Tynjala, the county’s director of elections, said he checked with Duluth election officials and learned that the busy, downtown-area precinct was short-handed on election night, and things got even more hectic when one of the harried election judges left early.

St. Louis County officials decided to delay completing the count of the precinct until all other Duluth precincts are counted, to see if any of the missing paperwork turns up. If it doesn’t, the best discernable totals from the precinct will be submitted to the Secretary of State along with “incident reports” of the irregularities and what was thought to have caused them. “It shows we need more election judges,” Tynjala said. “They put out the call for them, but not enough people want to do it.”

Later update, from Anoka County, via Paul Levy:

In Anoka County, election officials had to hunt down two missing ballots.

When they counted ballots for a precinct in the city of Lexington, they came up two ballots short of the number recorded on Election Day. That led to a call to Lexington City Hall and a search of the box in which the ballots had been kept before the recount began.

A city worker jiggled the box and the two ballots – one for Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and the other for a minor candidate – tumbled into view. Static electricity probably had pinned these two ballots to the side of the box when all the others were removed to be transported to the Anoka County Government Center for the recount.

More fun with numbers: Frankin wins by 27?

Monday, November 24th, 2008

You know what they say about idle hands…Nate Silver, the baseball-sabermetrician-turned-political-statistician, has been weighing in intermittantly on the Senate recount at his website, During the presidential cam[paign, he quickly shot from obscurity to must-read status for the quality of his number crunching, validated when he came very, very close to calling the race within decimal points.

Anyway, his newest crack at the recount has Al Franken beating Norm Coleman by a grand total of 27 votes. The math is pretty migrane-inducing, but for what it’s worth, here’s his take.

Here’s one way to send a protest with your ballot

Friday, November 21st, 2008

This Anoka County voter was clearly ready for the end of campaign season. This ballot has an almost poetic quality.



In case you have trouble reading it, the poem goes like this, all entered as write-in candidates:

You need to
make voting
easier to do
This is
Enough with the
political ads
This is
what happens
when you
bombard me
with them
Al Franken and
Norm Coleman
are so annoying
they’re repugnant
From now on
I’ll give up
my right
to vote
if I get
beat down with
political ads
Advertise that

Dealing with the numb in numbers

Friday, November 21st, 2008

From the Ramsey County recount site, this tidbit from staff writer Curt Brown:

Ramsey County election judge Diane Follmer said counting stacks of ballots to 25 for three straight days can get mind-numbing.
Sometimes, she’ll count in French to stay alert.

“When someone at my table sneezed yesterday, instead of saying: ‘Gesundheit,’ I said: ‘Seventeen.”

Recount math (of a sort)

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Based on what the first-day totals of the Great Minnesota Recount hint at, the winner of the U.S. Senate race will/might/could be….


The winner will/might/could be…(drum roll, please)…Al Franken – by 12 votes, out of the nearly 2.9 million-ballots that were cast.

Here’s how the numbers work: Franken started the day Wednesday unofficially trailing Sen. Norm Coleman by 215 votes. By the end of the day, with 18 percent of the state’s votes counted, Franken had shaved that lead to 174 votes. If that pattern continues to hold in the remaining 82 percent of the precincts (admittedly a BIG if), Franken would pick up 227.7 votes. And that would leave him the winner, by 12.7 votes.

Of course, reality will complicate such a neat conclusion to the tightest statewide race in Minnesota history. For starters, votes recounted the first day came from precincts that overall tended to be slightly more Republican, which could help Franken in the coming days, as more Democratic-leaning areas are counted (among them the majority of votes still outstanding in the overwhelmingly Democratic central cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul). At the same time, Franken isn’t likely to duplicate the disproportionately big bump he got Wednesday from precincts in St. Louis County where old voting machines failed to properly read results.

All of that said, the final outcome could well hinge on the ballots that both candidates have challenged.
So far, Coleman’s representatives have challenged a total of 146, while Franken’s have challenged 123. If that initial pattern continues (again, big if), Coleman will have challenged 811 once all the votes are recounted, Franken 683.

If all of the challenges are dismissed, Franken’s 12.7-vote winning margin holds. For the sake of argument, if half of both candidates’ challenges are upheld, Coleman gets a 64-vote edge, giving him the win. If a quarter are upheld, he gets a 32-vote bump, also enough to hold onto his seat. If only a tenth of the challenges are upheld, Coleman picks up 12.8 votes, one-tenth of a vote more than Franken gets from the hand recount.

Now, get your calculators out and contribute your own ways of analyzing the numbers so far.

Bachmann: Obama and Democrats want to “enact socialism”

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, who suggested that Barack Obama harbored “anti-American” views as a presidential candidate, said in a Wednesday television appearance that Democrats in Congress are trying to “enact socialism.”

Bachmann, who drew a strong backlash after previous comments that appeared to question the patriotism of her Democratic opponents, attempted to deflect some of the criticism in a TV appearance earlier this week, saying that her “anti-American” remarks had become an “urban legend.”

But she resumed her tough talk during Wednesday’s appearance on Fox News with Neil Cavuto, who interviewed her about the national stakes in the recount battle in the Minnesota U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.

Bachmann, making a point about how the Republican minority can recover from its Election Day reverses, said “what we have to do is give our positive alternatives to socialism.”

“Now that we will have a Democrat in the White House and, of course, running both branches of government, our job will be to make the very positive, distinct difference,” she continued. “Not necessarily to help the Democrats enact socialism, in fact to fight it.”

The term socialism, often associated with a 20th century repudiation of capitalism in favor of a government-controlled economy, is an echo of the waning weeks of the Republican presidential campaign of Ariz. Sen. John McCain, who also used it to refer to Obama’s policies.

Explaining Obama’s victory, Bachmann said that “a lot of Americans didn’t realize it was Democrats that controlled the House and Senate for the last two years.”
“I think the American people at the end of the day will say, whoa, wait a minute. I didn’t vote for socialism, did I?”

Cavuto, pushing back slightly, noted that “Republicans kind of got the socialism thing going” with the $700 billion financial bailout, which emanated from the Bush administration and won significant Republican support in Congress, including McCain’s.

“It did emanate from the White House,” said Bachmann, who voted against the bailout bill. “However, it was the Democratic majorities in the Senate and the House that passed it.”

Al vs. Al

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

During his tour of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, Democratic Senate hopeful Al Franken was quoted as saying he’s “cautiously optimistic” he’ll prevail in his recount battle with Republican incumbent Norm Coleman.

Now, that’s standard politico-speak. But Franken was singing a somewhat different tune as recently as 2005 in his book, “The Truth (With Jokes),” writing,

Cautiously optimistic? That’s not good. That’s an optimist’s way of saying, “We’re screwed.” I’ve instructed my wife that if a doctor ever tells her that he’s “cautiously optimistic” about my test results, she is to pull the plug immediately. (Source: “The Truth (With Jokes)”, p. 12)

(hat tip: RedState)

Notes from the recount….

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Wednesday, 3 p.m.: Based on early returns from the recount, it appears that a fair amount of the change in vote totals is the result of challenged ballots. A challenged ballot is taken out of the mix, temporarily at least, and the effect is to reduce the total for the candidate who got that vote.

However, those ballots may still come into play, since they’ll go to the state Canvassing Board, which will make the decision on which candidate gets the vote or if it stays out of the mix.

Wednesday a.m. Pretty quiet so far, by all accounts, but there’s this scene-setter from Duluth, courtesy of staff writer Larry Oakes:

As they waited for the St. Louis County recount to begin, supporters of Norm Coleman and Al Franken sat on opposite sides of the St. Louis County Board room – Coleman supporters on the right and Franken supporters on the left.
Asked for an explanation, Franken supporter Larry Anderson, a union organizer from Duluth, said: “I think the Coleman people got here first and automatically went to the right.,”

Bachmann rips Obama, Franken – denies “anti-American” remark

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, appearing Tuesday night on Fox News’ show with Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes, derided President-Elect Barack Obama as “more of the same” over reports that many of his new appointments are recycled Clintonistas.

The Minnesota Republican also accused DFL Senate candidate Al Franken of trying to “stuff the ballot box” in his recount struggle with GOP incumbent Norm Coleman.

All the while, Bachmann managed to reserve enough ammo to dismiss as an “urban legend” reports that she had suggested on a pre-election episode of the “Hardball” show with MSNBC host Chris Matthews that Obama and other members of Congress were “anti-American,” and that the media should investigate them as such.

Resident Fox liberal Alan Colmes, who read a transcript of Bachmann’s “anti-American” quote from her appearance on MSNBC, offered to have her watch the video clip of her remarks on his own web site. But the segment ended before Bachmann could fully respond.

Not, however, before Bachmann pummeled Obama over some of his recent presidential appointments, including the pick of former President Clinton official Eric Holder as Obama’s new attorney general.

Hannity, joined by Bachmann, faulted Holder for his role in Clinton’s pardon of billionaire financier Marc Rich, who had been indicted for tax evasion. Holder also has come under attack for his role in sending 6-year-old Cuban Elian Gonzalez back to the island nation during the Clinton presidency.

“I don’t think any American sees this as change,” Bachmann said. “It’s back to the future.”

Bachmann, who has become a regular conservative commentator on cable television talk shows in recent months, reserved some of her sharpest barbs for the Senate race recount process in the Minnesota, where Franken has sought to review rejected absentee ballots.

“He wants to stuff the ballot box with rejected ballots,” said Bachmann, adding that the dispute “calls into question what the record is and who’s watching the books.”

Her comments about the fairness of the recount seemed at odds with those of GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty as well as with Coleman himself. They have both expressed confidence in the recount process in recent days, though some campaign and GOP party officials have criticized Franken’s aggressive lawyering in the recount.

Bachmann’s appearance on the Fox TV show also represented a change in tone from her most recent remarks about Obama. On Nov. 6, two days after the election, Bachmann was quoted in Politico saying she was “extremely grateful that we have an African American who won this year.” Although she supported GOP hopeful John McCain in the presidential election, she told Politico that Obama’s victory was “a tremendous signal we sent.”

Those remarks were widely seen as an attempt to soften her pre-election criticism of Obama, including her remarks on Matthews’ show that the Illinois Democrat “may have anti-American views” and that reporters should investigate whether other Democrats may be “anti-America.”

Reminded of those remarks by Colmes Tuesday night, Bachmann suggested, as she has before, that she was baited and trapped by the media, which created an “urban legend” about what she says she really said.

“What I said was ‘do your job,’” Bachmann said. “That’s what I said.”

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