Was the election stolen?

The State Canvassing Board review ballots
Members of the state Canvassing Board review a ballot challenged by U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman. The board found DFLer Al Franken recieved 225 more votes than Coleman, but that result faces a legal challenge.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

The Wall Street Journal editorial page. A columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. And blogs too numerous to mention. They've all cried foul about the results of Minnesota's U.S. Senate recount. And some voters are concerned, too.

"I think deeply suspicious is the right term for it," said Republican Gordy Druvenga, a 52-year-old accountant from Mounds View.

Druvenga saw Coleman declare victory on Nov. 5, with an unofficial lead of 475 votes. He watched that lead shrink to 215 votes as Minnesota's counties double-checked their vote-counting machine tallies. And then Coleman's lead evaporated altogether. Franken pulled ahead after election officials across the state recounted all 2.9 million ballots by hand. The state canvassing board found Franken received 225 more votes than Coleman did. But Druvenga doesn't buy it.

"It seemed like when there were votes that were lost, the decision was in Franken's way," he said. "And then when they found votes, the decision was in Franken's way. And there's ongoing issues that haven't been resolved, but they just said 'well, let's just move ahead anyway.' And always when they made that decision, it would go Franken's way.'"

The criticism doesn't bother canvassing board member Kathy Gearin.

"We've gotten all kinds of positive comments," Gearin said. "And even walking down the street or in the grocery store, I have had people come up and say 'thank you for the work!'"

Gearin's response to people who think the recount was fixed is: Watch the tapes.

"You can watch every single thing we did," she said. "We never looked at a ballot outside of the cameras. We never made a decision except in front of the cameras."

The state Canvassing Board consisted of Gearin, plus three other judges and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

Ritchie is a Democrat. Two of the judges were appointed by Republican governors, another by Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura, and Gearin was elected to her judgeship without the backing of a political party. In spite of their diverse political backgrounds, the board operated with near unanimity.

"Ninety-five percent of the ballots that were challenged we all agreed to 5-0 in the state Canvassing Board. All of the decisions of the state Canvassing Board were 5-0 consensus," Ritchie told reporters last week.

When the board sided with Franken on the 133 ballots that apparently disappeared in Minneapolis, that was a unanimous decision. It was also unanimous when it rejected Coleman's request to consider irregularities related to so-called "duplicate ballots."

Ritchie says the recount process was fair and "as accurate as was humanly possible within Minnesota law and the issues we were directed by the state Supreme Court."

The Minnesota Supreme Court made several rulings that affected the results of the recount. And in general, those rulings worked against the Coleman campaign. Coleman's lawyers asked the court to force additional rejected absentee ballots to be opened and counted. But the court declined. And the court also declined to address Coleman's concern that some ballots may have been counted twice during the recount.

The court made no ruling on the merits of Coleman's arguments, but it said those issues were too complex for the Canvassing Board to address. They would have to wait for an election contest. That's the technical term for the lawsuit Coleman has filed challenging the results of the recount.

The judges who oversee the election contest will be able to take testimony from local elections officials. Lawyers will be able to question witnesses and cross-examine them. That will help the court determine whether any ballots really were counted twice, for instance.

"The Canvassing Board really had no process to hear and review evidence and make factual determinations," Minneapolis election lawyer Brian Rice explained.

Most members of the Canvassing Board are reluctant to comment until the Senate race is finally settled. But Judge Edward Cleary released a brief statement. He said the canvassing process was "thorough, open and bi-partisan." And he pointed out that the election contest court will be able to deal with issues the Canvassing Board couldn't.