2008 is about to come to a close, but the bitter contest between Al Franken and Norm Coleman is nowhere near completion.
Hundreds of absentee ballots are left to be counted, and there is no agreement between the campaigns as to how the tally should proceed. And national politicians are becoming increasingly involved in the race, adding a whole other layer of vitriol in an already tense environment.
At the very least, the canvassing board completed one important part of the recount yesterday. Both campaigns had complained about a number of confusing rulings and an uncertain final count, so the board met to finalize the count of the challenged ballots it went through two weeks ago. 6 extra votes were allocated to Al Franken and 2 extra votes were allocated to Norm Coleman.
In other words: Al Franken’s lead now stands at 49 votes.
The only issue that remains to be resolved is that of the improperly rejected absentee ballots. As I have stated before, Coleman would have no more (non legal) paths remaining if Franken’s camp had not insisted on these ballots being tallied and had not convinced the canvassing board to instruct counties to isolate improperly rejected absentees.
In a confusing decision two weeks ago, the State Supreme Court ruled that both parties and county officials have to agree on exactly which absentee ballots to count (the ballots themselves are in closed envelopes so the campaigns cannot see who the voter has voted for); the ballots on which everyone agrees will then be sent to the state election board to be opened and counted.
This mechanism is unsurprisingly causing chaos. After all, Coleman’s and Franken’s camps have no reason to agree on anything.
County officials have identified 1,346 absentee ballots as having been improperly rejected. An analysis by the Star Tribune suggests that Franken will gain more if all those ballots are counted as more ballots come from precincts won by Al Franken. Thus:
- The Franken campaign wants to count as many of these 1,346 ballots as possible.
- The Coleman campaign is
- refusing to agree to many of these ballots being counted, and
- insisting that a new batch of 650 absentee ballots be included; these ballots primarily come from Coleman precincts, have not been identified by county officials (only by the GOP) and the Franken camp is unsurprisingly laughing off the suggestion that they be counted.
In Anoka County, yesterday’s meeting was particularly contentious and no consensus was reached on any ballot. Hennepin County’s process is also likely to be chaotic. The Star Tribune does note that the process is unfolding more smoothly in some smaller counties, however. In Beltrami County, for instance, all parties agreed to forward seven of the eight absentee ballots identified by county officials; in Sherburne County, 15 of 18 ballots have been forwarded (the Tribune adds that both campaigns were responsible for 3 ballots being thrown out in Sherburne).
As if all of these proceedings were not chaotic enough, national politicians are now getting involved around the question of whether Al Franken should be seated if he is ahead after all absentee ballots are counted but before litigation is resolved.
Here is the basic issue: In Minnesota, state law dictates that a canvassing board’s certifying the results is not a final certification if the election lands in court within a week! In other words, if Franken retains his lead after these 1,346 absentee ballots are processed (something that looks more likely than not) and Coleman sues over the issue of missing ballots and double-counted ballots, the Democrat would not be officially certified as the winner.
Yet, Minnesota’s other Senator Amy Klobuchar said yesterday that the Senate should “consider seating that person [certified by the canvassing board] pending litigation.” In other words, Klobuchar wants the Senate to seat a Senator as early as next week.
Republicans were predictably outraged by this suggestion, and new NRSC Chairman John Cornyn issued a harsh rebuke, accusing both Franken and Klobuchar of “creating chaos:”
“Al Franken is falsely declaring victory based on an artificial lead created on the back of the double counting of ballots. His campaign’s actions in the last several days on the issues of rejected absentee ballots are creating additional chaos and disorder in the Minnesota recount. Those actions, coupled with the recent comments by Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who suggests seating someone even if there is an election contest, are unprecedented. Minnesotans will not accept a recount in which some votes are counted twice, and I expect the Senate would have a problem seating a candidate who has not duly won an election.”
With Minnesota’s recount and Roland Burris’s apointment, the first few days of the 111th Congress could prove highly entertaining.