Monday, December 6, 2010

Minnesota Governor's Race Recount Update 3

Over the weekend (12/4 - 12/5) there was some reluctant progress in the Minnesota Governor's race recount.  Finally, after doing everything in their power to impede and delay the timely and efficient recount progress with thousands of frivolous ballot challenges, the Emmer campaign has abandoned  those meritless challenges.  After the attorneys for both campaigns met over the weekend to review just the frivolous ballot challenges for Hennepin County alone, a task taking some 6 hours, the Republicans finally withdrew 2,604 frivolous ballots.   The Emmer campaign hung on to another 24 ballots that were deemed frivolous, but at least letting go of the other 2,000+ was a step in the right direction.  Hennepin County is the largest county and the most populous in Minnesota; but it will be a better step if they do the same for all the other frivolous challenges in all the other counties.

To put this in greater perspective than just the Hennepin County frivolous ballots (including apparently the 103 frivolous ballots from the Dinkytown precinct that were the basis for another voter fraud hoax across the right wing blogosphere), the conservative Rupert Murdoch owned Wall Street Journal published this on the recount this morning:
"As of Thursday, there were more than 2,800 such challenges by Mr. Emmer's campaign, compared to 35 from Mr. Dayton's campaign that fell into this category."
How did the Emmer campaign come to have so many, many more frivolous ballot challenges?  The answer is that some if not all of the volunteers were told to make as many challenges as possible.  It was a deliberate tactic, to clog the recount process.  A very few Emmer volunteers produced the majority of those thousands of frivolous ballots which were time wasting, and costly in terms of state employee expense.

The next most significant reason is that the Emmer volunteers, unlike the Dayton volunteers, did not have to go through any kind of recount training.  For those who were part of the 2008 Senate race recount process, they lacked any updating in the post-Franken election legal changes which were a clear improvement over the 2008 rules.  So even those with experience were relatively clueless as to what constituted a valid challenge from what did not.  In contrast, the Dayton recounters had to go through at least two hours of training before being part of the recount.

Third, there were far, far fewer Emmer volunteers in comparison to the number of trained volunteers turned out by the Dayton campaign.  In some counties there were NO Emmer volunteers, while there were Dayton volunteers so far as I can tell in every county.  It is only my impression, but I had a sense in my own experience with recount challenges that absent an equal number of volunteers, some Emmer recounters tried to make up for that volunteer gap with more challenges, while Dayton volunteers did not make similar challenges. 

Similarly, I have heard more anecdotal accounts of Emmer recount challenges being a bit acrimonious and belligerent, although less so overall than during the 2008 recount.  I can offer that as part of the training provided by the Dayton campaign we were directed to be pleasant and courteous, not to be provoked, and only to make what we were absolutely convinced were legitimate ballot challenges, and not to make frivolous challenges.  Now, to be fair, when your campaign leads by nearly 9,000 votes, a campaign can only gain by playing nice.  But there was an observable difference in the lack of fair play evidenced by some Emmer volunteers, compared overwhelmingly to the conduct of the Dayton volunteers.  Even Republican election judges were expressing unhappiness with some of the Emmer campaign people.  On the positive side, it was my experience that when shown calm and courteous behavior, and shown that the Dayton observers really were acting in good faith, some - but certainly not all - of the Emmer volunteers improved their behavior.

But the total number, day after day after day of the recount in the counties shows how inconsistent that conduct was.  It tended to be the counties with the belligerent volunteers that produced the high frivolous ballot challenges; the counties with low frivolous challenges tended to have more constructive and cooperative recounts.  I would like to go on record here - some of the Emmer volunteers were warm, honest, and absolutely charming; this is not an indictment of all of them, only of the ignorant and obstructionist among them, which sadly were far too many.

There is no good reason, no fact-based reason, to significantly change or voting laws.  There are no significant, demonstrable problems with our election process to justify alterations which would make it more difficult for voters to exercise their franchise.  If we need to change anything, it is that we need to have trained people volunteer in the recount process.  I would like to see the Secretary of State provide minimum required content for that training, beyond which the campaigns involved can add what they like.  I would like to see some penalty for deliberately attempting to delay or otherwise subvert the legitimate election process, like deliberately generating thousands of bad faith frivolous votes.  We should hold those who participate in the election process - whoever they are, whatever their politics - responsible for their conduct if it is obstructive and costly.

As I write this post, we are a week and a day away from an expected certification of results, and the declaration of a winning candidate for Governor.  That candidate will almost certainly be Mark Dayton.  Whatever Tom Emmer does next will be a clear indication of actions speaking louder than words in telling us about his integrity.  From what I have seen so far, both his actions and his words show that MN GOP head Tony Sutton is lacking.  I can only hope that Emmer is in charge of his own campaign, and that it is not Sutton calling the shots.
"Mr. Dayton's campaign withdrew its 35 ballot challenges."
"Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson, a canvassing board member and former colleague of Mr. Magnuson, warned Mr. Magnuson[attorney for the Emmer campaign] not to waste the board's time with ballot challenges that would be unlikely to stand up."
MPR News was more specific about the actual warning to the Emmer campaign, in response to the abuse of the process created by the excessive number of frivolous ballot challenges.  This presents a situation where the canvassing board may have to review the ballots in anticipation of a law suit, but at least the Emmer campaign has been put on notice that they will be held accountable for obstructing a good faith recount:

State Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson told Magnuson and Emmer attorney Tony Trimble that they could be violating the lawyers' code of professional conduct if they present any frivolous ballots to the board.

"You're on the line here," Anderson told the two lawyers.

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