Canvassing board orders Senate recount

Mark Ritchie and the State Canvassing Board
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, along with the rest of the members of the State Canvassing Board, held a meeting to certify results from Election Day, and call for a recount in the U.S. Senate race.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

The board ordered local election officials to start going through the 2,920,214 votes cast in the Nov. 4 election. But the board delayed a decision on whether all of the discarded absentee ballots were properly rejected.

The board, which consists of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, Minnesota Supreme Court Justices Eric Magnuson and G. Barry Anderson, and Ramsey County Judges Kathleen Gearin and Edward Cleary, met for about an hour. Anderson was one of several board members who said they needed more time to consider the absentee ballot issue.

Supreme Court Justice Eric J. Magnuson
Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Eric J. Magnuson, a member of the State Canvassing Board, sits in a meeting held by the board to certify the results of Election Day and officially call for a recount of the U.S. Senate election in Minnesota.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

"I reference particularly the blizzard of paperwork that we have seen and whether or not there might be some additional time necessary to consider all of it," he said. "Is there anything about an additional period of time that will impact the rights of the parties to make election challenges or take other steps under the law?"

Attorneys for both campaigns said they were comfortable with the board taking a short time to make a decision. The board did not say when it will meet again but Secretary of State Ritchie said it would be early next week.

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Lawyers for Democrat Al Franken said they were pleased that the board delayed the decision and that the rejected absentee ballots issue is still alive. Those ballots have become a flash point between the two campaigns as they prepare for Wednesday's recount.

During the canvassing board meeting, Franken's lead attorney, David Lillehaug, argued that the board should review the absentee ballots because Franken believes some people were improperly denied their right to cast a vote.

"They have a right to have official mistakes corrected and have their votes counted," Lillehaug said. "Not later but now."

Lillehaug said it was the canvassing board's role to determine if every properly cast vote was counted. He said one voter had her ballot rejected for not being registered to vote when she was registered. He said another had his ballot rejected because the signatures didn't match.

"These people are real people who did everything right," he said. "They wanted to participate in our Democracy. They wanted to vote and have their vote counted. Can't we all agree that they shouldn't have to start a lawsuit, or have somebody else start a lawsuit before their votes are counted?"

Lillehaug added that the board's role goes beyond rubber stamping county election results.

Coleman's campaign attorney Fritz Knaak called those arguments bothersome. He said the canvassing board will play a key role in determining Minnesota's next U.S. Senator when it rules on contested ballots at the end of the recount.

"You are actually going to be examining much of the factual evidence that will be the basis for the decision one way or another that you will make subsequently," he said. "That factual analysis will be based on the ballots themselves. You are going to be in the position to make a determination. That's hardly being a rubber stamp."

Knaak said it would be unprecedented for the board to consider and count rejected absentee ballots. After the hearing, he said there are rules in place to ensure that the process is correct and fair.

"It's the responsibility of those voters to make sure that those votes get to where they're supposed to go," he said. "It's the responsibility of the voter to make sure that he shows up at the right polling place. I had several people tell me that they got to the wrong precinct and got in line. All of that are things in this system to assure that this is truly an accurate count and that there aren't any votes or voters that shouldn't be having their votes counted."

Knaak said he was confident that the board would not include the absentee ballots and pointed to a recent opinion from the Attorney General's office saying the absentee ballots should not be included.

Coleman's campaign also declared victory for the third time since Election Day even though elections officials have repeatedly said that a winner will not be declared until the recount is over.

Secretary Ritchie said county elections officials are ready to get to work. He predicted that the first few days could be rough as everyone gets to know the process.

"Because we have done this recount very recently, just two months ago, we have a lot of confidence in that, but we also know that the first two days will be like the first two days of almost anything," he said.

Ritchie said he hopes that local elections officials will complete the recount by Dec. 5. The canvassing board will then meet on Dec. 16 to start the process of considering ballots that the campaigns are contesting.