Minneapolis attorney Brian Rice knows something about recounts. He’s worked on a lot of them, notably the 2002 state Senate cliffhanger in District 27 that finally resulted in Austin DFLer Dan Sparks’ narrow victory over Republican incumbent Grace Schwab. Rice represented Sparks, who was ruled the winner by five votes.
So when Rice writes, as he didÂ in today’s St. Paul Pioneer Press, that ALL uncounted absentee ballots in the Coleman-Franken contest ought to be opened and counted because it may help the candidates decide whether it’s worthwhile to continue the fight, it makes you think.
Particularly when Rice says that all those ballots will be opened anyway.
“The media will insist on it under freedom of information laws. So it could be now or it could be next year. Either way we will find out what these ballots said,” he writes.
Really? I have to confess it hadn’t occurred to me that we might have the power under state law to unlock all those ballots ourselves. This could keep all of us news hounds working on the dailies employed for months, a prospect not to be sniffed at.Â
I called Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann, who’s become a familiar face to recount groupies in the months since the deadlocked November election (one voter whose ballot was rejected testified during the trial that yes, he was a distant cousin to Gelbmann).
Gelbmann didn’t take long to get back to me. Check out MinnesotaÂ Statutes 13.37, subdivision 2, he said. And there it is, under General Nonpublic Data:
“The following government data is classified as … private data with regard to data on individuals … Security information; trade secret information; sealed absentee ballots prior to opening by an election judge …”
What happens to those ballots, then? Perhaps they sit moldering in some dank Capitol cellar, awaiting a third millennium archeological dig?Â
Gelbmann said they’re kept for 22 months, then destroyed.
You could, in fact, count the ballotsÂ without identifying the voters; all you’d have to do is first separate the ballots from the voting materials. But the law makes no provision for such. If an election judge doesn’t open the ballot, then no one does.
I have a call into Rice to find out if there’s another opening here that we’re missing. The deputy secretary of state doesn’t seem to think so.
By the way,Â Rice’s opponent in the 2002 legislative recount was none other than Fritz Knaak –Â the esteemed White Bear Lake trial attorney whoÂ has worked almostÂ nonstop on Coleman’s recount team since the election.