Minn. board may act on voided absentee ballots

Mark Ritchie announces cavassing board
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie announced on Wednesday the canvassing board that will determine whether Republican Norm Coleman or Democrat Al Franken won Minnesota's Senate race.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

At a news conference Friday afternoon, Ritchie said he will not take a position on the rejected absentee ballots because he and the other four members of the board are likely to hear an argument from Democrat Al Franken's campaign to consider whether the ballots should be included in the recount.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Ritchie said the recount is done on the ballots that have been accepted so then there could be a contest.

"A citizen could go to court and say 'my ballot wasn't included.' and ask a judge to make a decision but that is not in our area it's in the contest area," Ritchie said.

But at a Friday afternoon news conference, Ritchie said he would not take a position on rejected absentee ballots mostly because he and the four other members of the canvassing board may have to consider a motion by the Franken campaign to include those ballots.

"We didn't know that the Franken campaign would bring this to the State Canvassing Board," Ritchie said. "I am not going to stand up here and say 'We're not listening to the public, we're not listening to the candidates, we're not listening to the press and we're close minded because I can't speak for all five.' So if somebody brings an issue, it will get a hearing by the whole State Canvassing Board."

The issue is important because Al Franken's campaign has said that some absentee ballots were unfairly rejected. The campaign filed a lawsuit in Ramsey County asking for a list of names from those who had their absentee ballots rejected.

Ramsey County said the information is private data, but there has been some disagreement even among elections officials as to whether that information is public or private. Gary Poser, the Elections Director for the Secretary of State's office, said he told some county elections officials the information is public.

On Monday, Hennepin County also rejected a request by Franken's campaign to reconsider 461 rejected absentee ballots. Franken's campaign attorneys have said on two occasions that they want to know whether any voters had their absentee ballots rejected when they shouldn't have. The campaign held a news conference on Thursday announcing the lawsuit in Ramsey County.

Since then, Franken has been forced to back away from an example in that news conference suggesting that an 84-year-old Beltrami County woman had her absentee ballot rejected because of inconsistencies in the signatures. On MPR's Midmorning program Friday, Franken admitted that the campaign made a mistake.

"All we're trying to do is make sure that everyone who has voted has their vote counted and I think that the Coleman people aren't dealing with that philosophy," Franken said. "They seem to have the philosophy of trying to cast doubt on the process as much as they can."

Franken was alluding to comments made by several Republicans, including a Fox News commentator and Governor Pawlenty, that 32 absentee ballots were kept in the car trunk of a Hennepin County Elections official. The elections official said the ballots were always secure and the Coleman campaign said it was satisfied with the explanation. Coleman campaign spokesman Luke Friedrich said the campaign will focus on an open and fair recount process.

"Our concern always has been, and will continue to be, ensuring that a legal open and transparent recount of all of the ballots that were cast legally on Election day," Friedrich said. "That's what we're going to do and the actions that we take and the actions of this campaign will be directed in making sure that that happens."

Friedrich also said the Coleman campaign is concerned that Franken's attorneys are pushing to speak with voters who had their absentee ballots rejected.

Meanwhile, a group of watchdog and voter integrity groups are banding together to watch the recount process. The League of Women Voters, Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota and Common Cause Minnesota will try to have observers at every recount location to monitor the process.

Keesha Gaskins, Executive Director of Minnesota's League of Women Voters, said she doesn't expect any major problems with the recount but will be watching to make sure it's fair.

"We don't have the authority to step in," Gaskins said. "We don't have the authority to throw our bodies between the counters and the ballots and we don't want that. We don't want to impede the process, but the important thing is if we see irregularities, consistent irregularities, you will hear from us and that's our role."

The State Canvassing Board will meet on Tuesday, November 18, to accept the official results from the Secretary of State's office. It will order the recount, which will start in some counties on Wednesday.