Minnesota Senate Seat Continues Unfilled

The odds are good that Minnesota will continue to have only one United States Senator for quite some time, Aaron Blake reports for The Hill.

A three-judge panel has the result of the Minnesota Senate race in its hands, at least for the time being. But that doesn’t mean Minnesota will have a senator anytime soon.

Lawyers for Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman delivered their closing arguments in the case Friday, but nobody knows when the judges will issue a ruling, which could come down in multiple parts. From there, further court action could keep the case going for weeks or months.

Franken leads Coleman by 225 votes, and signals indicate Coleman is unlikely to overturn the result in the current court.

His legal team has sought to cast as much doubt as possible over the outcome in recent weeks, saying that a ruling on absentee ballots made by the court has rendered any ensuing counting of the votes incomplete. Coleman’s team, which is currently appealing the results of a recount that gave Franken the lead, has suggested it could appeal the case further, and has the blessing of top Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

One can hardly blame Coleman or the GOP.  They honestly believe Coleman won the race and he did in fact have the most votes when the counting was done on election day.  The subsequent recount process was messy and frustrating and provided plenty of ammunition which with to question the legitimacy of Franken’s gained votes, some of which seemed to appear out of nowhere.

At the same time, however, Franken was declared the winner by the process in place and it’s virtually inconceivable that Coleman will somehow get the result overturned and either be declared the winner or succeed in getting a new election called.   And he’d likely lose said election, anyway, given the fact that the left-of-center vote was split between two candidates the first go-round and that the mere fact of having been declared the winner by the canvassing board has conferred added legitimacy to Franken’s claim of victory.

A revote would be the cleanest solution here but it’s an expensive one and, frankly, one not supported by Minnesota’s election law.  What remains, then, is either for Coleman to swallow the bitter pill of conceding a contest he thinks was stolen from him or continuing to deprive his erstwhile constituents of representation. My instinct leans toward the former but I don’t feel all that strongly about it.

Regardless, two things remain clear:

  • The election outcome was, for all practical purposes, a tie.
  • We need a better system for deciding the outcome of very close elections.
FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Loviatar says:

    James,

    Please provide links to your comments on Bush v. Gore circa 2000.

    I need a reference point before commenting

  2. James Joyner says:

    Please provide links to your comments on Bush v. Gore circa 2000.

    Difficult, seeing as how the blog wasn’t established until 2003. Most commenters don’t have paper trails going back eight or nine years.

    My contemporary position, as best as I recall, was that Bush won the initial vote and the legally mandated recount and that everything else that happened was illegal and an expost facto changing of the rules, which I believed both unfair and in violation of federal law.

    I believed then and continue to believe that it’s quite possible more people in Florida intended to vote for Gore than for Bush, that the actual outcome was as good as a tie, but that Bush was correctly declared the narrow winner given how people actually voted and the rules in place at the time.

  3. Michael says:

    We need a better system for deciding the outcome of very close elections.

    We have a very good system for deciding the outcome of close elections, whomever has the most votes wins.

    The problem isn’t the system for deciding, the problem is the system for counting. If the counting is reliable, the decision is easy. If the counting is unreliable, well, garbage in garbage out, as they say.

  4. James Joyner says:

    The problem isn’t the system for deciding, the problem is the system for counting. If the counting is reliable, the decision is easy. If the counting is unreliable, well, garbage in garbage out, as they say.

    The problem is that we’re unlikely to get much better at counting.

    I’ve addressed this in previous posts on the matter but I’m talking about a cutoff point for a runoff, instant runoff voting, or other mechanisms that would likely produce less narrow outcomes by having voters chose between the top two candidates rather than having the results distorted by multiple spoiler candidates.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    The situation in Florida in 2000 and the situation in Minnesota in 2008 highlights a favorite point of mine: innumeracy.

    There is no flaw-free voting system. I don’t believe there every will be. As long as there is no flaw-free voting system there will be a margin of error. Whenever the margin of error exceeds the margin of victory, whatever either of those things are, the results of the election have become arbitrarily determined.

    The law in Florida in 2000 and current Minnesota law manifestly produces elections with arbitrary results. That undermines the confidence of the public in the electoral process and should be changed.

  6. Anderson says:

    We need a better system for deciding the outcome of very close elections.

    I recommend Stone, Paper, Scissors, though the number of “go’s” should be stipulated up front.

    Pistols at dawn would have the advantage of diminishing the total number of politicians, but may conflict with other state laws.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    To avoid litigation, objective standards have to be utilized. Minnesota uses subjective standards, requiring humans to determine, to the extent humanly possible, the intent of the voter, where such intent was communicated imperfectly. And given that the human judges making subjective determinations, those actions can be subjectively evaluated by myriad levels of judicial inquiry.

    Frankly, I think we should only be looking for fraud on the subsequent examinations.

  8. just me says:

    There is no flaw-free voting system. I don’t believe there every will be. As long as there is no flaw-free voting system there will be a margin of error. Whenever the margin of error exceeds the margin of victory, whatever either of those things are, the results of the election have become arbitrarily determined.

    I agree with this.

    I think when you have a panel of people trying to determine voter intent it makes the likelihood of further error even greater.

    Personally i would like to see run offs in cases where neither party receives greater than 50% of the vote-much like the requirement in Georgia.

    But if that is deemed to expensive and difficult, then I actually think a coin toss or some other random action (pulling a name out of a hat or similar) should determine the winner. At the very least it wouldn’t turn into courts getting involved and people changing the rules or standards as they go along.

  9. Grewgills says:

    All of the instances I can remember of elections close enough to be litigated had more than 2 candidates. Instant runoff seems to be the best solution. Where is the opposition to this policy?