Let the refs do their job


by Jeff Fecke • On Election Day, the U.S. Senate race was the last for which I marked a vote. I’ve been a lukewarm Franken supporter, and if the race had been between him and former Sen. Dean Barkley, IP-Minn., I would have voted for Barkley. Indeed, I almost did.

But I’ve despised Norm Coleman ever since he went the full turncoat in 1998, not just bolting for the GOP, but embracing the most hateful elements of the party while he did so. In the Senate, he’s been a spineless weathervane, willing to buck the Bush Administration every single time it didn’t matter. Norm Coleman is a firm believer in Norm Coleman; everything else is kinda beside the point as far as he’s concerned. And while I’m not convinced Franken will be a great senator, I am convinced that Norm is a lousy one, even absent the serious ethical questions surrounding him.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that vote might just turn out to be important:

Democrat Al Franken picked up several hundred votes at Thursday’s state Canvassing Board meeting, all but erasing the narrow unofficial lead that Republican Sen. Norm Coleman has maintained for weeks. The DFLer seemed poised to move ahead today, at least temporarily, as the board rules on more challenged ballots.

Franken also appeared ready to beat back another challenge, as board members appeared skeptical about the Coleman team’s proposal for preventing ballots from being counted twice. Talking about instances when a ballot couldn’t be run through a voting machine, requiring a duplicate to be made, the Coleman campaign said the ballot should be counted only if an original could be matched with its copy.

Depending on whether you believe the Associated Press or the Star Tribune, Coleman’s lead is now between two and five. Not hundred. 2 and 5. Given that the Canvassing Board has almost four hundred more Coleman challenges to get through tomorrow, it is now almost certain that Franken will hold a lead going into the weekend.

To be fair, that lead will be fragile; there is the matter of reallocating votes from withdrawn challenges, and it’s possible those reallocated votes could pop Coleman back into the lead. But there’s a problem with that, too:

Al Franken and Sen. Norm Coleman each got good news and bad news Thursday, as one of the wildest elections in Minnesota history took yet another pair of startling turns.

The Minnesota Supreme Court said improperly rejected absentee ballots must be counted by the state Canvassing Board, something Coleman tried to prevent. But they won’t be counted immediately, and Coleman and Franken must agree on which ones are tallied.

That last line is a sticking point, but it’s one that presumably can be overcome; the Coleman camp, for example, is not simply going to be able to say, “Well, none of them,” which is what they tried to persuade the Supreme Court of. It’s now probable that Franken will find enough votes in the absentee stack to pull off a win. Not certain — it ain’t over ’til it’s over — but more likely than not.

It should be interesting to watch the Republicans — who’ve been saying for weeks that Norm has won and it’s all over — reverse themselves and demand the process play itself out. Out local GOP astroturfers at Minnesota Democrats Exposed1 have already done so:

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of challenged ballots that have been withdrawn from both campaigns. We’re not certain if those ballots will be dedicated to Coleman, to Franken or to the Other pile. The Secretary of State’s Office is working to process the withdrawn ballots and redeclare the vote to the call made by the local election official during the recount.

What makes things tougher is that the campaigns are now restoring some challenges that they withdrew earlier. They’re doing this because they know that the board is acceptable to certain challenges. They are also withdrawing challenges that they know have no chance of being upheld.

As one colleague put it, the campaigns are playing 3 card monte and no one knows the real number.

Truly wonderful, the concern Ryan “Mini-Mike” Flynn shows for waiting until all the votes are in before anyone declares victory. It would be truly more wonderful if he and his master hadn’t spent the past month declaring Coleman the winner.

But that’s life when you’re a paid spinner. I’ve never said anything other than that we should count all the votes. And I still say that — certainly, if Al Franken pulls ahead tomorrow, that won’t mean he’s won. But it does mean that the constant drumbeat from the GOP to simply certify Norm’s win and move on was at best misguided — oh, heck, it wasn’t misguided, it was flatly an attempt to game the system, to declare victory at the two minute warning. Unfortunately, the game’s gone into overtime now; probably best if we all let the refs do their job.

Originally published December 1, 2008