Saturday, January 3, 2009

After fifth-pile, Franken +225

UPDATE: 11:02PM Sunday, Jan. 4: CNN is reporting that the Minnesota State Canvassing Board will certify Al Franken the winner of the 2008 statewide election to United States Senate, defeating incumbent Norm Coleman. Mr. Coleman is widely expected to formally challenge the result in court, about which much more below:


Norm Coleman and his campaign lawyers are nothing if not doggedly persistent. Over the past two weeks, ever since Al Franken took the lead in the recount for Minnesota's 2008 Senate race,t they've tried floating a specious story about Franken votes being found in somebody's trunk, they've tried claiming that 110 or so ballots were actually counted twice, they've tried objecting to the counting of 1,350 absentee ballots that the county election officials felt had been improperly rejected the first time around, and, finally, they tried to have those 1,350 ballots supplemented with nearly 700 additional absentee ballots that a grand-total of nobody else on earth thought should be included. The bad news is that these antics are par for the course with Republicans; the good news is that they haven't gotten away with it.

Today, as a blizzard loomed with ominously impeccable dramatic timing, the Secretary of State of Minnesota opened the 955 ballots that had survived a preposterous "everyone must agree" standard, out of the 1,350 that seem to have been improperly rejected, and at the end of that count Al Franken had widened his lead to 225 votes. As small as this margin is, the significance of the number cannot be over-stated, since it reduces to zero the possibility that Mr. Coleman could reverse his deficit if he prevailed on both court challenges pertaining to the supposed double-voting and the supposedly "found" ballots. It also reduces to very nearly zero the possibility that Senator Coleman could reverse the deficit with the inclusion of all 700 of the ballots that he preposterously claims for inclusion, since even those are sure to contain a significant tally for Franken. At this point, the only remaining path for Coleman is to challenge the election in court--but in the absence of a clear and substantial case of either negligence or malfeasance by the state canvassing board, the likelihood of a court overturn of this result is very, very small indeed.

What happens next is anyone's guess: Mr. Coleman is within his rights to challenge a significant number of the ballots that were informally tallied for Franken this afternoon, when they are formally added to the count at Monday's meeting of the canvassing board. He is within his right to make further "emergency" appeals on further, specific procedural grounds, to the Minnesota state supreme court. He is also within his right to challenge. Another possibility is that Mr. Coleman could concede the outcome, based on today's results (which were far more conclusively pro-Franken than even the most optimistic projections that had been reported before the absentee ballots were opened). It would seem that whether Coleman chooses to fight on or concede will come down to how today's events are relayed to him by his closest advisers. If they report the matter as a 90-10 proposition, knowing Mr. Coleman personally as I am unfortunate enough to do, it seems unlikely that he will choose to concede. If they report the current state of the matter as a 99-1 proposition, he may need another day.

If I learned one thing from a seven-and-a-half year stint in economic development in the state of Minnesota, it's that assuming Norm Coleman will show even the tiniest scrap of dignity or class is a sucker bet. But on the other hand, George Allen didn't show a lot of class when he called a reporter "macaca," either, and after an understandably protracted interval of self-reflection and personal anguish, he eventually emerged from his home in Virginia and did the right thing by conceding his 2006 senate contest to Jim Webb. If the pattern holds, Mr. Coleman has for himself the perfect opening to find that same shred of career-salvaging graciousness, both in today's result and in its timing: He can spend all day tomorrow very conspicuously saying nothing public to anyone, and then on Monday he can concede.

Stranger things have happened. Indeed, stranger things have happened in this election.

Dave O'Gorman
("The Key Grip")
Gainesville, Florida

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