Canvassing Board to make decision on rejected absentee ballots

Ballots being re-counted by hand
Elections judges recount ballots in a Northfield City Council race. In the recount for Minnesota's U.S. Senate seat, nearly 3 million ballots will need to be scrutinized to determine the voter's intent.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

When the State Canvassing Board meets this afternoon, it will have to determine whether it should take the unusual step of examining rejected absentee ballots. Franken's campaign says it should and is using four voters as examples.

In a memo to the board, Franken's campaign presents sworn affidavits from the four who argue that their absentee ballots were improperly rejected. Franken's attorney, Marc Elias, said one woman's ballot was rejected because she wasn't registered to vote, however she was. He said another was rejected because a county official failed to sign the envelope.

"In an election this close, every vote matters and every vote should be counted," Elias said. "And whether it's a close election or not, these individual Minnesotans have the right to have their vote counted on the same basis that every Minnesota voter did who cast a lawful ballot."

"...everything we know is the recount is going to start Wednesday morning."

Franken's legal argument comes at a time when county officials are preparing to hand count 2.9 million ballots later this week. Franken currently trails Coleman by 206 votes. But, the Secretary of State's office said that margin is expected to grow to 215 votes when the office presents the audits of 200 randomly selected precincts to the State Canvassing Board.

Republican Norm Coleman's attorney, Fritz Knaak, argues that Franken's campaign has a win at all costs strategy and said only ballots cast in the election should be considered. Knaak backed up his argument with an opinion from the Minnesota Attorney General's Office, which is run by a Democrat.

"Minnesotans will not stand for this kind of effort to win through the legal system what the Franken campaign could not win through the ballot box," Knaak said. "The Attorney General's Office today offered an opinion which is entirely consistent with what our campaign has been stating from the beginning. It soundly rejected Franken's arguments and said that rejected absentee ballots do not belong in the administrative recount tally."

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Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, another Democrat, sought that opinion from the Attorney General's Office. Ritchie did not offer his opinion on whether the rejected absentee ballots should be included in the recount because he wants to hear the arguments from both campaigns.

He also said he didn't want to speak for the entire canvassing board, which he chairs. The other members include two Minnesota Supreme Court Justices and two Ramsey County District Court judges. Ritchie said the Canvassing Board should consider all issues but is telling local election officials to plan to start hand counting the votes on Wednesday morning.

Fritz Knaak, Coleman's lead attorney
Fritz Knaak, Norm Coleman's lead attorney, said that Minnesotans will not stand for this kind of effort to win through the legal system what the Franken campaign could not win through the ballot box.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

"People are ready to go," Ritchie said. "A judge could, of course, intervene. God could intervene and the canvassing board could intervene. But, everything we know is the recount is going to start Wednesday morning."

Ritchie also announced that the recount will occur in 107 different locations across the state. At the same time that counting will be going on in some counties, Franken's campaign is scheduled to appear in Ramsey County District Court.

The campaign filed a lawsuit asking some counties to release the lists of voters who had their absentee ballots rejected. Franken's attorneys want to know if all discarded ballots were properly rejected. Several county attorneys and Coleman's campaign argue that releasing the names violates voter privacy.