After the meeting, Ritchie met with the capitol press corps in an attempt to clear up the murkiness of the board’s proceedings. Asked about board members stepping only gingerly around the counties, he said simply, “this’ll be up to the counties,” adding that most of the county officials he’s talked to “are very anxious to correct their errors.” Translation: The ball’s in their court.
Ritchie reiterated the obvious discomfort on the part of board members about the daunting number of ballot challenges that face them next week, calling it the board’s “biggest job.” “It’s the big gorilla in the room, so to speak.” If the campaigns get the total number of challenges below 1,000, the board members can finish the job in four days, he said. If more remain, they’ll take as long as it takes to review them. Once again, he thanked the campaign lawyers for reducing their challenges, but fretted that the reduction “is just not [happening] as fast as is needed.”
Recess, until next Tuesday.
Board members unanimously voted to ask the canvassing boards in the state’s 87 counties to count the “allegedly” improperly rejected ballots and. All stressed that this is just a recommendation, given the fact that the board has no authority to order the counties to do the job.
Yet again, the prospect of the whole process spinning into court was raised by several board members, noting that either of the campaigns could go to a county’s district court to ask that the local elections officials be compelled to count the ballots — something the board members repeatedly acknowledged they can’t do.
They initially punted on further asking the counties to submit their amended vote counts but said they fully expect the counties will forward the new counts. Ritchie prodded them to say the local canvass should be “opened, amended and sent to us — tells them we expect those [ballots] to come to us.” In the end, they backed off on saying much of anything beyond a vague expectation that the amended vote counts will somehow show up before the board next week.
Ritchie chided both campaigns for burying his office in paper at a time when he said the lawyers should be devoting their energies to chipping away at the mountain of challenged ballots. He warned them: “I’m gonna manage this process so we finish on the 19th. Everyone should hear this message.”
Final understatement of the day, from Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson: “We’re in very much uncharted water here.”
On to the improperly rejected absentee ballots. So far, in 49 counties, 4,823 rejected ballots have been examined and 638 of those were determined by local officials to have been wrongfully rejected, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann reported. If that trend holds true, with more than 13 percent of the votes tossed improperly, that would end up totalling 1,587 statewide, he said.
“It looks like a significant number,” Ritchie said, turning to Swanson. She said her staff started with the assumption that “every lawful vote should count.” The improperly rejected ballots were cast by “voters who did everything right on Election Night,” she said. “They followed the rules … they had their votes rejected through no fault of their own.”
She said a review of case law found that the board members can neither count the votes themselves, nor order the county election officials to count them. The board can, however, ask the county canvassing boards to count the improperly rejected ballots and report the new totals to the board in amended reports.
9: 47 a.m.
Next up, the 133 ballots from Minneapolis. City elections director Cindy Reichert gave a brief rundown of how the ballots disappeared from Ward 3 Precinct 1. “We were quite busy, there was a lot going on,” she noted. Her bottom line: “We determined definitively the ballots were missing” — a contention that’s been dismissed by Coleman’s team. Reichert recommended that the board accept the number of votes in the precinct counted on Election Night: 2,028 (which is actually 132 votes higher than recounted because of what she called an insigificant math error).
Attorney General Lori Swanson said that based on case law, the board can accept the number counted on Election Night “if you believe those [votes] were cast and counted on Election Night.”
After several board members questioned Reichert about her calculations about the vote totals, she stated simply, “I am convinced those are correct.”
Board member Eric Magnuson, the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, moved that the board certify the Election Night count of 2,028 votes and the board adopted the motion unanimously. Magnuson noted that court precedents have noted that a challenge to that decision would rely on firm evidence and “if you don’t have the ballots, you don’t have evidence. I believe the office here acted in the best interest of the public.”
He also noted that the issue “no doubt” is headed for court.
Update on ballot challenges: Of a total of 6,655 submitted by both campaigns, that number has been whittled to 4,472, a task the board will take up next week.
Board member Kathleen Gearin issued an audible sigh and delivered both sides with a none-too-subtle tongue lashing: “I hope these challenges are serious,” she said. “This is about every Minnesotan’s right to vote … You’d have to be deaf and dumb, uh, intellectually challenged, not to hear people wondering if all these challenges are serious. I just hope both sides are respecting every single ballot they see. Please, please, be serious.”
The board reconvenes. In the understatement of the morning, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, the board’s chair, opens by saying the proceeding is rife with “high energy and a lot of emotion.”
The curtain’s scheduled to go back up in a few minutes on the state Canvassing Board’s deliberations in the never-ending Franken v. Coleman slugfest. This time, the five board members have to decide whether they’ll count hundreds of so-called “improperly” rejected absentee ballots. There are potentially enough of them to decide the election; Team Franken wants them counted, while Coleman’s folks don’t.
It’s not at all clear what, if anything, the board members will do about the ballots. They’re armed with an opinion from the Attorney General’s office (which they haven’t made public) which advises them whether they even have the power to deal with the ballots or can simply pass on the issue. Which would likely lead the dispute into the courts.
Also: Board members are expected to take up the still-vexing issue of the 133 missing ballots from a precinct in Minneapolis’ Dinkytown neighborhood.