Count every vote, Republican style

When the canvas of local tallies was completed by local election officials after election day, Al Franken trailed Norm Coleman by roughly the same number of votes that Coleman trails Franken following the recount (225). Some twelve thousand absentee ballots had been excluded for noncompliance with state law on election day; Franken immediately formulated a strategy to identify and include “improperly excluded” absentee ballots. Franken recount maestro Marc Elias sought a delay in the certification of the vote following the canvas:

With the State Canvassing Board set to certify the results in Minnesota’s unresolved Senate race Tuesday [November 18], the campaign of comedian Al Franken (D) has asked the board not to officially call the race until the votes of several voters who cast absentee ballots are included in the final count.

The Franken campaign filed a brief with the five-person board Monday, demanding that every vote be counted.

“We would ask them to not certify the vote count,” Marc Elias, a Democratic election lawyer working for Franken, said in a news conference Monday.

Elias was filled with sorrow and pity:

In the news conference Monday, Elias described the difficulty four registered voters had in casting absentee ballots. He said the four are a “representative sample” of the problems dozens of voters faced across the state, and because they had trouble, any official count that the state makes Tuesday will be inaccurate because dozens of voters were prevented from voting.

“I don’t think they have a vote count to certify,” Elias said.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid dutifully picked up the mantra:

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid weighed in with a statement, saying, “Today’s decision by the Minnesota Canvassing Board not to count certain absentee ballots is cause for great concern. As the process moves forward, Minnesota authorities must ensure that no voter is disenfranchised.”

Through litigation, the Franken campaign succeeded in persuading local officials in Democratic areas to identify approximately 1,350 “improperly excluded” absentee ballots. Officials in Republican counties tended to stand by election-day rulings on absentee ballots. (At this point the Coleman campaign unsuccessfully demanded that 650 previously rejected absentee ballots not identified as “improperly excluded” by local officals be added to the recount.) Following a December 18 Supreme Court decision, Coleman agreed with Franken that a subset of the “improperly rejected” absentee ballots identified by local officials should be included in the recount. Their inclusion ballooned Franken’s lead in the recount from 49 to 225 votes.

Next week the election contest begins. The election contest is a judicial proceeding whose statutory object is to determine which candidate received the most legally cast ballots. Now that Franken has taken the lead, the candidates roles are reversed. It is Coleman who demands that every ballot be counted. Politico reports:

Coleman’s campaign is calling for all of the 12,000 rejected absentee ballots to be sorted, and for the three-judge panel overseeing the election contest to adopt a liberal standard for accepting them into the overall count.

“If the absentee voter was alive on Election Day, was either a registered voter or included a registration card with his or her ballot, and did not otherwise vote, then his or her absentee ballot should be counted — if the voter’s intent can be determined from the ballot,” said Coleman campaign attorney Fritz Knaak.

Minnesota law identifies four requirements for the inclusion of absentee ballots in the vote. In essence, the Coleman campaign is asking the election contest panel to ignore the applicable Minnesota statute and therefore expand the pool of previously rejected absentee ballots to be included by more than 10,000. Count every vote!

Here is the relevant portion of Knaak’s statement released yesterday by the Coleman campaign:

“We intend to request that the 3-judge panel allow for the possibility that the roughly 12,000 rejected absentee ballots be opened.

“We expect that Minnesotans will share the same stunned disappointment we do to learn that the Franken campaign may actually oppose this fundamental act of fairness. Particularly when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, stated in a press release on November 26, 2008: ‘Today’s decision by the Minnesota Canvassing Board not to count certain absentee ballots is cause for great concern. As the process moves forward, Minnesota authorities must ensure that no voter is disenfranchised. A citizen’s right to have his or her vote counted is fundamental in our democracy.’ The principle of every valid vote counting was convenient only when it supported their purposes for the Franken campaign, which is a pattern we’ve seen from them throughout this entire process.

“Obviously, not every one of the 12,000 rejected absentee ballots was wrongfully rejected. However, those that were – those that were rejected through no fault of the voter – and conform to the laws of this state as to voting requirements, voter eligibility and voter intent – we believe those ballots must be opened.

“In other words: If the absentee voter was alive on Election Day, was either a registered voter or included a registration card with his or her ballot, and did not otherwise vote, then his or her absentee ballot should be counted — if the voter’s intent can be determined from the ballot. And I’ll say that again: If the absentee voter was alive on Election Day, was either a registered voter or included a registration card with his or her ballot, and did not otherwise vote, then his or her absentee ballot should be counted — if the voter’s intent can be determined from the ballot.

“This is about equal protection, so voters in every county throughout the state can trust that their ballot was treated the same as a ballot in another county. This is about fairness in the process and for every Minnesotan who cast a ballot on Election Day. We don’t do so with the expectation that every vote will be a Coleman vote.”

Until yesterday, the Coleman campaign sought the inclusion only of other absentee ballots it claimed had been improperly excluded by local officials. Prior to the election contest, the Coleman campaign had no problem with the requirements imposed by Minnesota’s absentee ballot statute. Now the requirements of Minnesota law are unfair! They are an impediment to equal protection.

Knaak’s statement is frankly ludicrous. It is nevertheless consistent with the Three Stooges quality of the work of the Coleman campaign following the canvas that has brought Senator Coleman to his current pass.

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