Dispute over rejected absentee ballots continues

Lead attorney for Al Franken, Mark Elias
Lead attorney for Al Franken, Mark Elias, showing what the Franken campaign claims is photographic evidence of missing ballots.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Dwight Higgins isn't sure if Ramsey County Elections officials counted his vote. Both he and his son Dwight Jr. voted absentee. The problem is only one of their votes was counted.

"I don't know if it was my vote or my son's vote that kicked out," Higgins said. "I guess there was a question of him signing up as senior. It never got fixed."

Higgins is one of 761 Ramsey County voters who had their absentee ballots rejected. There are, in fact, legitimate reasons absentee ballots are rejected. A voter may not be registered or the signature or return address on the ballot envelope doesn't match the registration. Also, the county might not receive the ballot until after Election Day, or the voter may have chosen to show up in person and vote that way.

But some say their ballots were rejected for no good reason. Higgins said he and his son should be on that list.

A ballot challenged by the Coleman campaign
A Coleman volunteer contested this ballot marked for Franken because the voter did not stay within the oval line. On Day 3 of the recount, campaigns were clearly stepping up their challenges in a game of tit-for-tat. The Coleman supporter said the voter's intent was not clear, and that his challenge was consistent with the kinds of challenges made by the Franken camp on Thursday.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

"He turned 18 in July," Higgins Sr. said. "He got caught up in the campaign, it was a historical event for him. It's just a shame that he's counted out."

Higgins said Dwight Jr. registered to vote before the September primary and received his voter registration card in October. On the day before Election Day, the two went to the Ramsey County Elections office to cast their absentee ballots. Dwight Sr. said he grew suspicious when an elections official couldn't find his son's registration card but said she would correct the mistake and process the vote. Now, Higgins wants to see both of the votes counted.

"They should consider that every one should be counted," he said. "Because when you strike a vote you strike a voice, so everyone's voice should be heard."

Higgins said he didn't know that one of the ballots was rejected until Al Franken's campaign notified him earlier this week. Because both he and his son voted for Franken, the campaign asked him if they would sign an affidavit detailing the story.

Other voters contacted by Minnesota Public Radio News were shocked to learn that their ballots were also rejected. Some were college students who said they thought they filled out the paperwork correctly. One said an elections worker couldn't find his registration card even though he registered in every election. He registered again when he voted absentee, and still his vote was tossed out.

Al Franken wants the State Canvassing Board to examine whether any of these votes were improperly tossed out. If they were, Franken's campaign would like the legitimate votes to be included in the recount.

Franken's attorney, Marc Elias, said there are at least 6,400 rejected absentee ballots the campaign knows of. He said it's clear that elections officials mistakenly tossed out legitimate ballots.

"The fact is that no Minnesotan should be disenfranchised because quote 'We screwed up' and somebody put it in the reject pile," Elias said. "The canvass board has an opportunity to look at these rejected ballots and to do the right thing."

Fritz Knaak, Coleman's lead attorney, said the rejected absentee ballots should not be included in the recount. He said it's not the canvassing board's role to determine the fate of those ballots.

"Counting those ballots during the recount would be an unprecedented step," Knaak said. "One that has never been done before in Minnesota and one that we believe [will] undermine the overall legitimacy of the process that's been created."

Knaak also warned Franken's team that they should be careful what they wish for, because some of those rejected absentee ballots must be votes for Coleman.

Nell Kromhout said she finds it ridiculous that her vote wasn't counted. Kromhout is an attorney who is doing some short-term work in Las Vegas. She said she voted for Coleman and wants the canvassing board to include her vote.

Attorney Marshall Tanick
Attorney Marshall Tanick is representing Claire Bohmann, a voter who says her ballot was unjustly rejected.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

"I'm shocked. I'm outraged," Kromhout said. "I went to all of the effort, living temporarily out of state, to fill out the absentee ballot registration form, to get that and fill that out, to get my ballot, to fill that out and then send it back in. I felt like I was being a good civic citizen and somehow my vote doesn't count?"

Even if the canvassing board decides not to count the rejected absentee ballots, that doesn't mean an end to the issue.

An 18-year-old Minneapolis woman who goes to school in Washington state has already filed a lawsuit calling for her vote to be counted. Her attorney, Marshall Tanick, said Claire Bohmann's ballot was rejected because officials said she wasn't registered to vote, when in fact she was.

"Ms. Bohmann's case is probably a forerunner of other litigation that's going to happen and how that plays out is going to be dependent to a large extent on how the canvassing board decides to handle these uncounted absentee votes," Tanick said.

Elections officials in Minneapolis and Ramsey County both said mistakes can occur, especially in the busy days leading up to Election Day. They said they will work with whatever decision the canvassing board makes.

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