Skip to comments.Absentees on the agenda
Posted on 11/25/2008 10:30:38 PM PST by tomymind
On Dec. 8, 2000, supporters of Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush burst into cheers in the rotunda of the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee, Fla. They had just learned of a judge's ruling that absentee ballots cast in pro-Bush counties would not be thrown out. They taunted supporters of Democrat Al Gore with the song that baseball fans sing when an opposing pitcher is knocked out of the game.
"Na-na-na-nah, hey hey, good-bye!" they chanted. Bush was pronounced the winner of the state of Florida, and the presidency, four days later, and the preservation of those "absentees" was a critical step along the way.
Today, in a crowded room of the Minnesota State Office Building, the question of absentee ballots specifically, those that were submitted by voters but rejected by local election officials will be front and center in the U.S. Senate recount battle between Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken.
Neither side will be singing after today's hearing of the state canvassing board, because there are many battles ahead. But as in Florida, absentee voters in Minnesota, nearly 10 percent of the electorate are looming as large as those who went to their polling places on Election Day.
Lawyers for Franken, who trailed by 215 votes in the state tabulation before the recount began, are scouring the state for people who cast absentee ballots for Franken, had them rejected by local election officials, and may have a case that their votes should now be counted. Franken is asking the canvassing board, which oversees the re- count, to somehow "count" these votes.
Coleman's lawyer, Fritz Knaak, called the move "changing the rules when the election's already been held,'' virtually the same language used by Republicans against Democrats in Florida eight years ago.
Ah, Florida. The presidential recount deadlock eight years ago when Bush and Gore were, like Coleman and Franken, separated by less than one-hundredth of 1 percent contains so many cautionary lessons for us Northerners.
# In two Republican-leaning Florida counties, absentee-ballot applications had arrived in local elections offices without the required information filled in. Republican Party workers were allowed to "fix" certain (Republican) ballot applications after the fact, ensuring that voters would get ballots. In both cases, stacks of other rejected (non-Republican) applications were not "fixed," and those voters didn't receive ballots.
The judges said it was wrong to allow partisans to "fix" the applications of Republican-only voters, but the ballots reflected the voters' intent and should not be thrown out. Cue the cheers.
# According to "Deadlock,'' by the staff of the Washington Post, Florida allowed the counting of overseas absentee ballots that arrived up to 10 days after Nov. 7 (Election Day) as long as they were postmarked Nov. 7 or earlier. Gore planned to challenge some of these votes. The Bush team accused Gore of having "gone to war ... against the men and women who serve in our armed forces.'' Gore relented against the PR onslaught.
On the day before Thanksgiving, the Bush team used this momentum to push vote-counters in 12 heavily Republican counties with military bases to reopen their counts and accept overseas ballots with missing postmarks or problems with applications. The "Thanksgiving stuffing" operation netted Bush 176 votes.
# According to "36 Days," the account of the recount by the New York Times, counties applied vastly different standards in deciding whether to throw out overseas ballots. Katherine Harris, the Bush-supporting secretary of state, ordered counties to accept overseas ballots with after-Election-Day postmarks as long as the documents were signed and dated by Election Day. Some counties considered that illegal and refused to accept late ballots. Others accepted absentee votes with no postmarks.
"It seems like everybody's been changing the rules to suit their satisfaction,'' Fred Galey, the Brevard County supervisor of elections, told the Times.
In Minnesota, an absentee voter has to submit an application to receive a ballot, may have to show proof of residence and must fill out the ballot in the presence of another registered voter. The witness must sign a statement attesting to the vote. It is possible to "vote absentee'' in person before Election Day, and the state uses e-mail now to transmit absentee-voting documents to overseas voters.
Every absentee ballot must be in the precinct by 8 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted. On Election Day, or sometime before it, absentee ballot envelopes are examined by election judges or by absentee ballot boards. They decide if the absentee voter has met the necessary requirements. They mark the ballots "accepted" and put them in the ballot box, or "rejected" and return them, uncounted, to the county auditor.
Stuff happens. None would deny that some absentee ballots are rejected when they shouldn't be. On Tuesday, Franken's recount lawyer, Marc Elias, said the campaign has found 6,432 rejected ballots in 66 counties that have provided the information that the campaign went to court to obtain. Elias admits most of those were "properly rejected," but some percentage may have been denied unfairly. His team is contacting rejected Franken voters for whom the rules might not have been followed precisely.
Elias said the purpose is not "to put votes in the count." But why else would lawyers for Franken, who trailed in the only statewide count so far conducted, be contacting absentee voters whose votes have not been counted? Political science professor Larry Jacobs of the Humphrey Institute told Pioneer Press reporter Jason Hoppin: "The Franken campaign is going to win or lose based on what happens with the absentees.''
It seems unlikely the canvassing board, which oversees the statewide recount, will allow rejected absentee ballots to be included in the recount. How can a vote be recounted if it wasn't counted in the first place? That is the position of the Minnesota Attorney General, and it seems clear to everyone who is not currently employed by Al Franken.
But that decision, if it comes today, doesn't solve the problem. Whoever is on the short end of the recount will go to court to file an election contest. It's not dirty pool or bad manners it's expected. A court contest could even interrupt this wonderful recount that Minnesota's finest citizens are participating in. Whenever the court battle comes, absentees will be on the agenda.
The issue is: In an eyelash election, how does the state deal with absentee voters who argue that they were wrongly put into the "rejected" pile? If the courts agree to look at such cases, should they look only at the people Franken's lawyers have contacted? What about the Coleman voters who might have been wrongly put into the "rejected" pile? If we go there, it seems we'll have to look at every rejected absentee voter and determine which, if any, deserve to be counted.
Minnesota benefits from stronger laws than Florida had in 2008. We do not expect any Thanksgiving stuffing today. But we have as many red-hot partisans as Florida does, even if ours wear polar fleece instead of golf shirts. And if neither the recount nor the court contest does the trick, we can line up the rejected Franken voters on one side and the rejected Coleman voters on the other and have the seat decided by a shout-off: "Na-na-na-nah, hey hey, good-bye ....''
Jim Ragsdale is a Pioneer Press editorial writer and columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
---> "On Tuesday, Franken's recount lawyer, Marc Elias, said the campaign has found 6,432 rejected ballots in 66 counties that have provided the information that the campaign went to court to obtain. Elias admits most of those were "properly rejected," but some percentage may have been denied unfairly. His team is contacting rejected Franken voters for whom the rules might not have been followed precisely. "
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----------------------- To help Se. Norm Coleman
What makes me sick is that this was even close.