The more I learn of the debacle that passes for the process of electing a senator to represent Minnesota, I realize how fortunate we are to reside in Boone County. The benefit accruing from having a grown-up in charge and adult supervision at the polls cannot be overstated.
The sheer volume of charges and counter charges flowing from both Al Franken, the Democratic Party candidate, and Norm Coleman, the Republican incumbent, increases the difficulty in determining a fair and final outcome of such a closely contested race. Nonetheless, it should be obvious to anyone with more than cursory experience with elections and vote counting that things are a bit amiss in the North Star State.
There is an old saw, generally attributed to Joseph Stalin, “It’s not the people who vote that counts. It’s the people who count the votes.” This is not an accusation of nefarious nor underhanded procedure in Minnesota; however, there appears to be ample evidence of procedural inconsistency in the failure to segregate and account for voted ballots in several precincts and absence of clear policy for absentee votes–all indications of unsatisfactory supervisory practices.
The improprieties alleged but not verified in the handling of ballots include the finding of some 100 Franken marked ballots in an election judge’s car as the most egregious example.
As an example, Minnesota, as does Missouri, requires election officials to make duplicates of ballots of originals found damaged during election counting, marking them as duplicates, separating out the originals. In this election, it came to light that some judges failed to identify the duplicates, resulting in the originals being counted as well. In all, over 25 precincts were found to have more ballots cast than signed-in voters with no possible method of determining which were double counted.
In other inconsistencies, one county’s hand count revealed 133 fewer votes than recorded by the machine on election night — the recount canvassing board chose to go with the larger number, ignoring the fact that there were not ballots on which to base this determination. But Ramsey County wins the cigar — one of its precincts ended up with 177 more ballots than recorded — the board went with the higher number even though the final count showed more votes cast than voters signing the register.
However, the counting and verifying of the absentee vote is the area where it gets “curiouser and curiouser” in the words of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. In response to a complaint by Mr. Franken, alleging that some absentee votes were rejected without cause, the counties were to compile a list of those believed erroneously rejected. Here is where the election commission and reality parted company.
It has been my experience in Boone County elections, a proven yardstick for measuring accuracy, that absentee ballots are treated little differently from those regularly cast. Once the election authority determines the voter is eligible, that the ballot is in order and is received on time, it is processed by machine or by hand as appropriate. In the event the ballot is incorrectly marked, the voter’s intent (except for over voting) is determined by agreement between a Democratic and Republican judge and verified by the election authority.
Accordingly, since these ballots have already been adjudicated and recorded by competent authority, retabulating already counted votes is an unnecessary exercise. Moreover, without a standard process in place, this ploy introduces subjective judgments and applies political pressure in deciding an election other than at the polls.
Due to the inconsistencies and lack of standards in the recount, we may never know who is the legitimate elected junior Senator from Minnesota. But, having worked Boone County elections in almost all facets of the voting, counting and verifying of ballots for 15 years, I am appalled at the lack of professionalism apparent in the Minnesota Senate contest.
I doubt any election authority can equal Boone County's comprehensive, hands-on training program for election officials, put together by Wendy Noren to do the job and get it done right the first time.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.