Yesterday the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza updated the Minnesota Senate recount under heading “Counting Chaos!” Yet the text of his update mostly belied the heading (and the exclamation mark).
Two weeks after Election Day, incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman was certified the winner of his race against Al Franken by 206 votes out of nearly 3 million cast on November 4, subject to a mandatory recount triggered by the closeness of the margin.
As Cillizza explains, the process by which the votes have been recounted is simple: Independent election judges at locations throughout Minnesota’s 87 counties have conducted a ballot by ballot examination (on a precinct by precinct basis) and determined the candidate voted for on each ballot. The Coleman and Franken campaigns each have an observer in place at the recount locations and the observers can challenge the ruling of the independent judge.
The mandatory recount has proceeded by hand throughout Minnesota on a precinct-by-precinct basis in a mostly orderly fashion for the past three weeks, with results reported each day to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office. The recount will come to an end tomorrow, with some 6,000 challenged ballots – roughly half challenged by each side — to be considered by the five-member canvassing board called under state law to preside over the recount.
The canvassing board includes Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, Justice Barry Anderson, Ramsey County Judges Kathleen Gearin and Edward Cleary, and Secretary of State Mark Ritichie. Ritichie is the “man from ACORN,” but the canvassing board is otherwise a serious body. When they take up the challenged ballots tomorrow, they have their work cut out for them.
According to news organizations comparing the reported recount results to the originally certified tally, as of last night Coleman’s margin over Franken had expanded to 316 votes (excluding the approximately 6,000 challenged ballots).
Cillizza predicates his claim of “chaos!” on the Franken campaign’s claim to be ahead by 22 votes when the challenged ballots are finally ruled on by the canvassing board. My own sense from talking to election observers and others is that the Franken campaign is trying to introduce a sense of uncertainty to the probable outcome that is probably unwarranted.
A claim of “chaos!” predicated on the mysterious appearance and disappearance of ballots at various locations would have more substance. Franken, for example, picked up 37 votes from newly discovered ballots in a suburb of St. Paul earlier this week. And yesterday’s recount in Minneapolis’s first precinct showed 133 fewer votes than the election-day count, potentially costing Franken 46 votes. Today’s Star Tribune reports that Franken attorney David Lillehaug asked that the recount in Minneapolis be kept open until the ballots are found. Citing 133 “disenfranchised voters in Minneapolis who are waiting for action,” he wrote the secretary of state, “the U.S. Senate race may hang in the balance.”
Cillizza to the contrary notwithstanding, Franken isn’t talking or acting like a winner. As I wrote on Power Line this week, I conclude that Franken anticipates losing the recount. Franken has already resorted to litigation over rejected absentee ballots and threatened further litigation over the rejection of certain absentee ballots. He has met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the subject and won Reid’s expression of concern implicitly raising the threat that the Senate Democratic majority may overturn the result reached in Minnesota if the rejected absentee ballots in issue aren’t counted. Al Franken hasn’t been funny in a very long time, but that is really unfunny.
— Scott W. Johnson is a Minneapolis attorney and contributor to Power Line.