Strange things keep happening in Minnesota, where the disputed recount in the Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken may be nearing a dubious outcome. Thanks to the machinations of Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and a meek state Canvassing Board, Mr. Franken may emerge as an illegitimate victor.
Mr. Franken started the recount 215 votes behind Senator Coleman, but he now claims a 225-vote lead and suddenly the man who was insisting on "counting every vote" wants to shut the process down. He's getting help from Mr. Ritchie and his four fellow Canvassing Board members, who have delivered inconsistent rulings and are ignoring glaring problems with the tallies.
Under Minnesota law, election officials are required to make a duplicate ballot if the original is damaged during Election Night counting. Officials are supposed to mark these as "duplicate" and segregate the original ballots. But it appears some officials may have failed to mark ballots as duplicates, which are now being counted in addition to the originals. This helps explain why more than 25 precincts now have more ballots than voters who signed in to vote. By some estimates this double counting has yielded Mr. Franken an additional 80 to 100 votes.
This disenfranchises Minnesotans whose vote counted only once. And one Canvassing Board member, State Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson, has acknowledged that "very likely there was a double counting."
Yet the board insists that it lacks the authority to question local officials and it is merely adding the inflated numbers to the totals.
In other cases, the board has been flagrantly inconsistent. Last month, Mr. Franken's campaign charged that one Hennepin County (Minneapolis) precinct had "lost" 133 votes, since the hand recount showed fewer ballots than machine votes recorded on Election Night. Though there is no proof to this missing vote charge -- officials may have accidentally run the ballots through the machine twice on Election Night -- the Canvassing Board chose to go with the Election Night total, rather than the actual number of ballots in the recount. That decision gave Mr. Franken a gain of 46 votes.
The Opinion Journal Widget
Meanwhile, a Ramsey County precinct ended up with 177 more ballots than there were recorded votes on Election Night. In that case, the board decided to go with the extra ballots, rather than the Election Night total, even though the county is now showing more ballots than voters in the precinct. This gave Mr. Franken a net gain of 37 votes, which means he's benefited both ways from the board's inconsistency.
And then there are the absentee ballots. The Franken campaign initially howled that some absentee votes had been erroneously rejected by local officials. Counties were supposed to review their absentees and create a list of those they believed were mistakenly rejected. Many Franken-leaning counties did so, submitting 1,350 ballots to include in the results. But many Coleman-leaning counties have yet to complete a re-examination. Despite this lack of uniformity, and though the state Supreme Court has yet to rule on a Coleman request to standardize this absentee review, Mr. Ritchie's office nonetheless plowed through the incomplete pile of 1,350 absentees this weekend, padding Mr. Franken's edge by a further 176 votes.
In Today's Opinion Journal
Both campaigns have also suggested that Mr. Ritchie's office made mistakes in tabulating votes that had been challenged by either of the campaigns. And the Canvassing Board appears to have applied inconsistent standards in how it decided some of these challenged votes -- in ways that, again on net, have favored Mr. Franken.
The question is how the board can certify a fair and accurate election result given these multiple recount problems. Yet that is precisely what the five members seem prepared to do when they meet today. Some members seem to have concluded that because one of the candidates will challenge the result in any event, why not get on with it and leave it to the courts? Mr. Coleman will certainly have grounds to contest the result in court, but he'll be at a disadvantage given that courts are understandably reluctant to overrule a certified outcome.
Meanwhile, Minnesota's other Senator, Amy Klobuchar, is already saying her fellow Democrats should seat Mr. Franken when the 111th Congress begins this week if the Canvassing Board certifies him as the winner. This contradicts Minnesota law, which says the state cannot award a certificate of election if one party contests the results. Ms. Klobuchar is trying to create the public perception of a fait accompli, all the better to make Mr. Coleman look like a sore loser and build pressure on him to drop his legal challenge despite the funny recount business.
Minnesotans like to think that their state isn't like New Jersey or Louisiana, and typically it isn't. But we can't recall a similar recount involving optical scanning machines that has changed so many votes, and in which nearly every crucial decision worked to the advantage of the same candidate. The Coleman campaign clearly misjudged the politics here, and the apparent willingness of a partisan like Mr. Ritchie to help his preferred candidate, Mr. Franken. If the Canvassing Board certifies Mr. Franken as the winner based on the current count, it will be anointing a tainted and undeserving Senator.
New Year...Same Old Bullshit!