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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Welcome to Minnesota, the World's Coldest Banana Republic

With the Minnesota US Senate "recount" now completed in favor of Al Franken look for the DFLers who control the process to move to end it as quickly as possible and get the senator-select seated. If nothing else, this unfortunate episode should emphasize the urgent need to fix our badly broken election process.

What we have been witnessing is the embodiment of an observation often (rightly or wrongly) attributed to Vladimir Lenin:
"Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything."
Whether or not Lenin actually said this is not the point, but rather that the premise has been demonstrated to be true with this election. I also maintain that the outcome of the process we have just witnessed could also be described in Clintonian prose as "it all depends on how a 'vote' is defined" (and who is doing the defining).

Contrary to a lot of touchy-feely liberal thought, the question a legitimate election answers is not which candidate the majority of people want to represent them, but rather which candidate received the most legitimate, properly cast votes. Yes, the votes attempted by some people may not be counted due to fact they, for whatever reason, did not make their selection in accordance with the rules. Ideally everyone's choice would be tallied and the person favored by the majority would get the office, but we can't force people to vote (or in some cases even care about who represents them). If a person is too lazy to vote or not mentally sharp enough to cast a legitimate ballot that's the way it is. As in life, elections are often tough and sometimes even arguably unfair, but that's the way it is. Deal with it.

An analogy that comes to mind is the game show Jeopardy where a factually correct response is rejected if the contestant does not state it in the form of a question. If a contestant misses out on the big bucks because he or she didn't phrase their response correctly it's nobody's fault but their own. Would it be fair to the other contestants to accept a factually correct but improperly formatted response from the first person who buzzed in when the other contestants may also have also had the correct information but were beat to the buzzer because they were formulating their response in accordance to the rules? If winning the game is really important to a contestant they had better make damn sure their response follows the rules.

A vote in an election should not count if it is not properly formatted - period, end of story. The arbiter in the case of an questioned vote is a machine that can be demonstrated to apply the validation rules in a consistent and accurate manner. This is not rocket science.

We have the technology and procedures to unambiguously define and count votes. Taxpayers fund a state department that insures weights and measures involved in commerce are accurate. If the state can certify the accuracy of a meat scale or gasoline pump it can certainly certify the accuracy of a machine that counts votes. Reasonable steps can be taken to catch and allow voters to correct an invalid ballot before they leave the polling place if they choose to do so. Procedures can be implemented to minimize the chance of an honest clerical error (or intentional attempt at fraud, for that matter) from impacting an election.

Additionally, only ballots that have been properly accounted for and secured should be counted. Ballots that miraculously show up in the trunk of a political partisan's car or some unsecured back room file cabinet should be summarily rejected from consideration by the same reasoning that mishandled evidence is not allowed in criminal trials. Admittedly, there may be some syntactically legitimate votes that will not be counted through no fault of the voter, but the possibility of fraud is much higher than with ballots secured in a tightly controlled environment. Strict ballot handling procedures and multiple bi-partisan sign-off requirements with large fines (or harsh criminal penalties for intentional fraud) for election officials who are negligent in their duties would minimize the chances of voter disenfranchment due to improper ballot handling or honest clerical error.

The Minnesota US Senate recount farce that is about to conclude was not a true recount - Coleman already won that a couple of times. In a true recount the same population of votes that were tallied on election night would be counted again under the same standards as the original counting to assure that a counting error was not made and the result, whatever it turns out to be, certified. Any additional actions (including ballots discovered after election night without a demonstrable chain of custody after the voting machines were officially closed and sealed, counting votes for which no physical ballots can be produced, attempting to interpret the "intent" of a vote from a ballot that was rejected by the judgment of a dispassionate machine by largely subjective and arbitrary judgment of partisan officials, etc.) throw the entire process into chaos and shed doubt on the result.

The election was close enough that Franken possibly could have actually won, but the same is true (and more likely, based on the original machine tallies), for Coleman. The problem is that we can now never absolutely say for sure one way or the other because some ballots have been double-counted (the physical number of ballots involved in the recount is greater than the number of voter sign-ins in some districts) due to mixing of rejected and absentee ballots into the population and multiple collations and groupings. Add lawyers, political posturing, a biased media, and a canvassing board dominated by one party to the equation and the chance of coming up with a demonstrably accurate result is virtually nil.

In my view, the initial count and the first machine recount (even with the statistically improbable "corrections" that miraculously reduced Coleman's 700-plus vote margin to under 300 to get Franken within striking distance with a "properly" defined and executed "recount" process) is the closest thing we have to an unbiased tallying (the optical scan equipment used in Minnesota is pretty damn accurate - as a computer professional I find it hard to believe that the reported results would be as far off and in favor of one candidate as the "recount" result implies) and should be the basis to declare Coleman the winner.

Before you libs go ballistic, I proudly admit I am a Conservative and do not want Franken to represent me. But I am hardly a rabid Coleman supporter (I voted against Franken rather than for Coleman). I did not actively support or work for Coleman (in fact, I took a lot of heat from GOPers for my criticism of him) and could accept a legitimate Franken victory, but if the Canvassing Board's selection stands his "victory" is tainted to say the least. I also do not want Kate Knuth to (mis)represent me in the State House, but I accept the fact that she clearly won the election based on a majority of legitimately cast and counted votes and that I have to deal with the unfortunate result of two more years of her in office.

In my judgment the process that has apparently given Franken the win does not pass the smell test and certainly has the appearance of election theft by the political party in power. It also sets some dangerous precedents for future elections and could encourage more creative and aggressive attempts at manipulating an election.

The root of the problem is the liberal policies and laws that govern our election process (this problem is not exclusive to Minnesota). Our issuance of absentee ballots for almost any reason, allowing absentee ballots to be revoked by the voter right up until the polls close, same day registration with loose rules on voter identification, "motor voter" laws, inconsistent or unenforced chain of custody rules for handling ballots, tolerance of groups like ACORN that promote and encourage voter fraud, and probably several other factors I haven't thought of contribute to the problem. Until real election reform occurs (don't hold your breath with the DFL in power) our election process will continue to be a joke.

Without well-defined and consistently applied rules the election process will be open to fraud, abuse, and manipulation. Most reasonable people, no matter how partisan, can accept and deal with a legitimate political loss. It's much tougher when the perception is that the election was manipulated or stolen. The doubt about whether the result of an election reflects the will of the people, either real or perceived, cannot and should not be tolerated.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Franken announced his candidacy, the phrase "When hell freezes over" came to mind, never actually thought it would.

1/04/2009 4:04 PM  
Blogger Mark Heuring said...

Well done, good sir. Agree with every word.

1/04/2009 8:34 PM  
Blogger G-Man said...

Let their be no doubt. Our election process is working EXACTLY as designed. Democrats want ambiguity in the process. If the election is close, they get a second shot at taking the seat – not, necessarily winning it, but taking it. Democrats love to campaign for votes in recount court.

[I would like to see the DFL legislature prove me wrong by enacting something as simple as a photo ID required to vote. If it isn't discriminatory for Blockbuster to require photo ID to rent a movie, then it isn't discriminatory to require one for voting. (Oops, I'm wrong. It does discriminate against those trying to vote illegally in the wrong precinct. Are these the "voters" that Democrats want to protect?)]

What strikes me about this process is that these votes don't belong to Coleman or Franken. They belong to those who legally cast them according to the rules on election night.

As Hook points out. We do have rules to protect the integrity of the process – to protect the value of those votes that were legitimately cast and counted. If someone's absentee ballot was wrongfully left in a trunk and not turned in to the polling place on time, then it's a shame, but it doesn't count. This is a risk of casting a ballot by absentee. It should be processed at the right place at the right time and in the right manner. But opening the door to "late" entries opens the door to fraud and lessons the value of those votes that were cast properly.

I fully support Norm's effort to go to court because his actions will help ensure that my vote wasn't diluted by Franken votes that were counted twice or "5th pile" absentee ballots that were reconsidered for Franken while those for Coleman were rejected.

As Hook suggest, a key element to this mess is the absentee balloting process. By design, it introduces more human intervention and less chance for immediate rejection resolution by the voter. If an absentee ballot is rejected by the scanner, the voter loses the chance to cast a new ballot.

Remember, the more human intervention in an election process, the greater the chance to campaign for votes in court. Thank you Algore!!

Loose laws that make it easier to cast absentee out of convenience rather than need (such as being out of town) increases the number of absentee ballots cast and increases the risk that elections will be decided in court where legal maneuvering can trump legitimately cast votes.

While it is still a mystery how post election night corrections netted Franken a statistically impossible 500 votes, perhaps the biggest fraud in this recount was granting his request for names of absentee ballots that were rejected. From that point forward, the pretense of examining rejected absentee envelopes without knowing their contents was lost.

Franken's team had ample time to compare the names against DFL databases of known Democrat and Republican supporters. They had time to contact individuals and poll them on their vote. The affidavits that they offered from absentee voters proves this point.

Franken's team knew what votes were in the envelopes that they agreed to open and those that they rejected.

If memory serves, this list was also given to the Coleman team. Coleman, presumably, had the same chance. And, indeed, his campaign identified 650 such ballots from Republican leaning precincts for reconsideration. But, the unorthodox ruling of Minnesota's Supreme Court gave each campaign veto power over the selection of ballots to be reconsidered and Franken's team vetoed the consideration of these ballots. (Perhaps Coleman's team should have anticipated this move and vetoed EVERY ballot.)

Once voter names are linked to ballots and given to campaigns before decisions are made about reconsidering them, the process is no longer a "recount." It's campaigning for votes.

While I'm on my soap box, voting is both a right and a responsibility. The voter should be responsible for making sure that his or her vote is cast as intended. If the voter made too many marks on the ballot that failed to register a vote in the scanner, its the voter's responsibility to either fix it with a new ballot, or let it go. If they don't care enough to fix, there is no room for candidates to later attempt to discern the voter's intent.

1/07/2009 11:24 PM  

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