Most Minnesota Senate "Undervotes" Are From Obama Turf

Reply Sun 9 Nov, 2008 10:18 am
Most Minnesota Senate "Undervotes" Are From Obama Turf
Friday 07 November 2008
by: The Associated Press

St. Paul, Minnesota - An Associated Press analysis of votes in the tight, still-to-be decided race for a U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota shows that most ballots lacking a recorded choice in the election were cast in counties won by Democrat Barack Obama.

The finding could have implications for Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken, who are headed for a recount separated by the thinnest of margins - a couple of hundred votes, or about 0.01 percent.

About 25,000 ballots statewide carried votes for president but not for the Senate race. Although some voters might have intentionally bypassed the race, others might have mismarked their ballot, or optical scanning machines might have misread them.

A recount due to begin Nov. 19 will use manual inspection to detect such ballots.

Meanwhile, Coleman is using the state's open records law to ask Minnesota and all 87 counties for access to voting data and other records, questioning gains Franken has made since Election Day.

Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan complained of "statistically dubious and improbable shifts that are overwhelmingly accruing to the benefit of Al Franken."

The Coleman campaign cited a 100-vote gain that Franken picked up from Mountain Iron, in St. Louis County, on Thursday night.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said it was unfortunate that the Coleman campaign was questioning the integrity of the election, noting that adjustments are a normal part of the canvassing process.

Paul Tynjala, St. Louis County's director of elections, said the change in results from Mountain Iron was because of a human call-in error on election night that incorrectly gave Franken 406 votes, instead of 506 votes.

Three counties - Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis, which contain the population centers of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth - account for 10,540 votes in the dropoff between the presidential race and the Senate race. Each saw Obama win with 63 percent or more of the vote.

Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political science professor, said the AP analysis of the dropoff between the two races creates a "zone of uncertainty" that could become a focal point for the campaigns and election officials - and agreed the numbers favor Franken.

"These numbers present a roadmap for a Franken challenge," he said. "It suggests there are about 10,000 votes in the largest Democratic counties that are potentially going to tilt in Franken's direction."

The ballots that showed a presidential vote but no Senate vote are called the "undervote." Statewide, more than 18,000 of those ballots came from counties won by Obama. About 6,100 were in counties won by Republican John McCain.

Some areas of the state would appear to favor Coleman in a recount based on the dropoff, but most of those were smaller counties where the undervote was in the dozens. The largest of those pro-McCain counties was Anoka, in the suburban Twin Cities, where 1,189 ballots didn't choose a Senate candidate.

Minnesota ballots are fed into optical scanners, which depend on voters filling in ovals to make their choice.

Kim Brace, president of the consulting firm Election Data Services Inc., said there's no reason a ballot without a vote for a particular race would be rejected.

"Usually they're set to kick back to the voter if there is an overvote," said Brace, who has been an expert witness in court cases stemming from disputed elections. "But in most instances they're not set to kick back to the voter if there is an undervote. After all, the public has a right to not vote for somebody for a particular office."

Recount teams will look for whether stray or light marks on ballots signaled a voter's preference.

Associated Press writers Frederic J. Frommer in Washington and Martiga Lohn in St. Paul contributed to this report.
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Reply Sun 9 Nov, 2008 02:52 pm
They probably used the wrong kind of pencil:

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Reply Sun 9 Nov, 2008 03:31 pm
Any rational reason not to hold a special election and redo the senate race?
Reply Sun 9 Nov, 2008 04:20 pm
What rational reason is there to "redo" the election before all of the votes in this one are counted?
Reply Sun 9 Nov, 2008 06:40 pm
What rational reason is there to "redo" the election before all of the votes in this one are counted?

Would the obvious fact that nobody is ever going to be happy with the results of this race as it presently stands suffice?
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Reply Tue 2 Dec, 2008 11:29 am
With Big Stakes, US Senate Could Decide Coleman-Franken Race
Friday 28 November 2008
by: Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio

St. Paul, Minnesota - Local elections officials are expected to resume recounting votes in the U.S. Senate election on Monday after taking time off for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The entire recount must be done by next Friday, Dec. 5. The State Canvassing Board then meets on December 16 to start reviewing challenged ballots. The board intends to declare either Norm Coleman or Al Franken the winner a few days later.

But even then, the election may not be settled. A court challenge is likely, and both sides are preparing for the possibility that the Senate itself could weigh in.

After saying for weeks that he was going to take the recount process one step at a time, Democrat Al Franken's attorney now appears to be jumping ahead.

On Wednesday the State Canvassing Board rejected Franken's appeal to review any rejected absentee ballots, but the board did leave open the chance that they could examine any rejected ballots that were discarded for errors outside the voter's control. Afterwards Franken's Attorney Marc Elias said he would continue to work to make sure that all legitimate votes are counted.

"There are a number of ways that this can happen. Whether it is at the county level, before the State Canvassing Board, before the courts of Minnesota or before the United States Senate, we do not know, but we remain confident that one way or another, all lawful votes will be counted in this election," said Elias.

The Senate's top Democrat Harry Reid also weighed in on the canvassing board's ruling. In a statement he called the decision "a cause for great concern" and urged Minnesota authorities to ensure that no voter is disenfranchised. The comments by Elias and Reid have increased the potential that the Senate may take the rare step of weighing in on the race.

"Ultimately, the Senate has complete authority to determine who was elected," said Washington University political scientist Steven Smith.

According to Smith the Constitution allows the Senate to be the final arbiter of its membership. Smith said the Senate does so by determining the qualifications of each member. On most occasions, Smith said the Senate simply accepts a state's election certificate, but it has diverted course a few times.

"There is a motion under Senate rules and precedents that allows any Senator to make a motion to refer the credentials to a committee, presumably the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over election matters, in order to delay action on it," explained Smith.

In other words, the Senate could start its own investigation into the election and vote counting. If that action is taken, it's conceivable that Franken's argument regarding rejected absentee ballots could be reconsidered by the Senate.

"So, if this is like cases in the past in the House and the Senate, we could have staff members, or even Senators, sitting there looking at these contested ballots. It could come down to that," said Smith.

Smith said the Senate last weighed in on a serious election contest in 1974.

The contest involved a dispute between two New Hampshire candidates. After several recounts, the Senate moved to seat the Democrat. The motion was brushed back several times by Republicans who filibustered the issue. After months of wrangling, the Senate declared the seat vacant and ordered another election, which the Democrat won.

The possibility that the Senate, which is now controlled by 58 Democrats, could weigh in on Minnesota's election is a worry for Republican Norm Coleman's campaign.

For weeks Coleman's attorneys and Republican surrogates have warned that Franken was laying the groundwork for the Senate to consider the election.

Coleman spokesman Mark Drake called on Franken to abandon any efforts to get the Senate to weigh in on the race when the body seats its new members in January.

"We fear that that's where it's headed, and I think Al Franken owes it to the people of Minnesota to reject any and all efforts to stop a Minnesota Senator from being sworn in on the 6th. If the recount shows that Norm Coleman prevailed, as we expect it to. Al Franken should respect that," said Drake.

Drake said the Coleman campaign is preparing for a lengthy fight either in court or in the Senate.

Political scientist Steven Smith doubts the Senate will get involved. But he said there could be a real temptation for Democrats to consider the option, if Franken loses to Coleman by only a few dozen votes. But he said Democrats know a nasty floor fight could take away from all of the other business they want to conduct over the next several months.
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