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Al Franken Needs Help

Unless something drastic happens, Al Franken will lose his bid to overtake Norm Coleman’s narrow first-count win of Minnesota’s U.S. Senate election through the recount.  He’s considering other options, including asking the Democratically-dominated Senate to step in.

The math’s not in his favor:

To win his case before the state Canvassing Board, Franken must prevail on more than 6 percent of his challenges of Coleman votes even if Coleman fails to succeed on any of his challenges, a Star Tribune analysis shows.

If the outcome of past election disputes provides a clue, Franken will have a hard time reversing enough votes to win, said one veteran elections official who has been involved in the Senate recount. “Based upon the kinds of challenges I’ve been looking at in the last two weeks, I think that’s just not going to happen,” said Joe Mansky, Ramsey County elections manager.

But there are apparently other options.

Democrat Al Franken’s campaign said Monday that as many as 1,000 absentee ballots were improperly disqualified in Minnesota’s Senate race, and that it may appeal to courts or the U.S. Senate to order that those ballots be counted. “Wherever the numbers stand today…that number simply cannot be relevant if it does not include all the votes that were legally cast,” said Franken attorney Marc Elias. “No recount can be considered accurate or complete until all the ballots cast by lawful voters are counted.”

Minnesota’s Board of Canvassers ruled last Wednesday that it would not revisit the improperly disqualified ballots.

Elias said that of the 12,000 disqualified absentee ballots in the race, “as many as 1,000— ballots were improperly excluded, and should be counted. Elias said it would appeal to the Board of Canvassers, courts, or even the U.S. Senate to ensure those ballots be counted.

The U.S. Constitution allows each congressional chamber to be the “Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the Board of Canvassers’ decision to not count the absentee ballots “a cause for great concern,” fueling speculation that the Senate would explore the legality of the Minnesota recount’s results.

With the slim possibility of a “filibuster-proof” 60 Democratic Senators hanging in the balance (Franken would need to win and Saxby Chambliss would have to lose his runoff) Reid and his cohorts have a lot of motivation to see it Franken’s way.   Coleman’s team is not pleased:

“The Franken campaign has made it clear that the recounted votes and will of Minnesotans matter little to them, and that they intend to take their campaign to change the outcome of this election on to the United States Senate,” said Coleman campaign spokesman Mark Drake. “Al Franken should personally reject this strategy outright, and honor the right of Minnesotans to choose who their senator should be — and not allow lawsuits and the strong-arm tactics of the majority leader of the United States Senate to intervene in this process.”

We desperately need to clean up our electoral system to end this sort of nonsense.  Voting rules and procedures need to be streamlined and idiot-proofed, removing the need for post-balloting interpretation by interested parties.  I have no opinion whatever on the merit of Franken’s claim on the absentee ballots.  I’m quite sure, though, that if he wins based on the intervention of partisan officials, it’ll be widely viewed as illegitimate.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Brett says:

    It might cost a bit more, but I think that this would be a good situation in which Minnesota needs a run-off system, like the one in Georgia.

    As it is, I don’t particularly care if Franken loses the Senate seat. The Democrats already have effectively 58 Senators in their pocket even if both Franken and Martin lose; it’s not that hard to find two GOP Senators to support various pieces of legislation.

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  2. rodney dill says:

    But isn’t Franken good enough and smart enough and gosh darn it don’t people like him?

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  3. Dave Schuler says:

    We desperately need to clean up our electoral system to end this sort of nonsense.

    As the first reform I would second Brett’s suggestion of a run-off system. The situation in Minnesota is just one that has been fomented by lack of such a system.

    I’d also favor a reform that prohibits second-guessing of election judges. Barring provable misconduct or serious procedural errors the decisions made in the individual precincts should stand.

    As to the legitimacy of seating Franken given Minnesota’s history I think that Minnesotans will accept any certified candidate as legitimate.

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  4. PD Shaw says:

    This morning on Morning Joe, both Scarboro and Chuck Todd claimed that they’ve heard that a number of Senate Democrats are not disposed to help Franken. Reasons given: fear that Franken would be a distraction or encourage more from Hollywood to run for Senate. One also has to wonder whether a filibuster proof majority is the real desire of Senators (as opposed to the interests they represent)

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  5. Mithras says:

    We desperately need to clean up our electoral system to end this sort of nonsense. Voting rules and procedures need to be streamlined and idiot-proofed, removing the need for post-balloting interpretation by interested parties.

    Joyner-
    Are you endorsing a federal law to accomplish this? If so, I’m a little surprised a conservative would gloss right over the federalism concerns. Candidate qualification, voter registration, voting methods, polling places operations and count and recount procedures are all matters of state law and often local practices. I’d like to bring the United States into the 20th century by standardizing them for the whole country, but I doubt that most Republicans (or some Democrats) would vote for such a change.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    Are you endorsing a federal law to accomplish this? If so, I’m a little surprised a conservative would gloss right over the federalism concerns.

    As a practical matter, president, US House, and US Senate are federal elections even though they’re technically not. I’d be fine with centralizing the standards and procedures while keeping the administration local.

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  7. I concur with the above suggestions that a run-off provision in Minnesota would be a good move, especially with their history of significant (relative to other states, anyway) third parties.

    And James is right-there needs to be reform to the overall process.

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  8. Remember his old SNL bit, “What can you do for me, Al Franken?”? Seems like it wasn’t a joke after all.

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