Think back to Florida eight years ago. There is a reasonable argument that Al Gore was duly voted, even via the electoral college, to be President of the United States, but George W. Bush was placed in that office for one and only one reason: The recount process in Florida was transformed into a circus, and the mainstream press in the United States whipped large parts of the populous and many involved in the process into a panic. The delay in determining the winner was going to damage democracy. The free world could not survive any more waiting. It did not matter that the guy running ahead was very likely to become the guy running behind if a systematic and carefully conducted recount was allowed to proceed. So the Bush appointed secretary of state and the Bush/Reagan appointed Supreme Court stuck their collective finger in the American People’s eye and placed their boy in the white house.
And that was the single worst thing that has happened to this nation in a hundred years.
Now, we have the recount process in the Minnesota Senate race to determine which of the two candidates — Al Franken or Norm Coleman — will be elected and the Republicans have tried the same tactic but with only partial success. The relatively mindless drone-like mainstream press, which I am increasingly convinced is staffed with poorly trained brain-damaged monkeys (sorry, monkeys!), is pretty much jumping on the bandwagon. They fret and they warn of disaster and they keen and whine about the lengthy process. And they use the crazy, largly meaningless numbers that spill out of the somewhat complex (but not really THAT complex) process to craft often scary and always misleading and inaccurate headlines.
In the mean time, the individuals involved are acting appropriately, systematically and calmly. And, the people involved in the process — including Republican appointed judges — are sticking their collective finger in the proverbial eye of the slick out of town lawyers sent here by the Republicans to warn us that we are going to “have another Florida on our hands.” When a Coleman Lawyer, arguing election related issues before the Minnesota Supreme court, warned that we were heading for another Florida, Judge Anderson of the court told him to stuff it. When a similar threat was made to Secretary of State Ritchie at the Canvassing Board meeting, Ritchie told him to stuff it.
Here in Minnesota, we just don’t appreciate being told that we are anything like those dim witted crackers who can’t tell a hanging chad from a manatee. We have a pretty good election system, thank you very much.
There are two things everyone must understand about this process.
First is the time thing. This thing takes time. The truth is that the state of Minnesota is not equipped to carry out a hand recount of three million votes in a day or two. Why would we be? If this state was so equipped, we should be asking hard questions of what taxpayer money is being wasted to be prepared to carry out an activity that is required only every few decades or so.
These things take time. They don’t happen too often, but when they do, they take a little time. Chill.
Second is process. Every outlet from the local Star Tribune to the Late Night Talk Shows has been making fun of the ballots that have been challenged. The press and pundits are virtually giddy about some of them. Well, listen to me, main stream press: “You have to stuff it.” Let me ‘splain. But you are going to have to listen hard because this will require rubbing together two or more brain cells. Can you do that?
Consider a series of ballots with a mark indicating what might be an effort to vote for a candidate. In one ballot, at one end of the series, the mark is a nice dark oval that fills in the oval next to one candidate’s name. At the other end of the spectrum is a big funny looking blotch that vaguely resembles a Chinese character but isn’t’, and while it sort of overlaps with one candidate’s name, it really is just floating around in space in the general vicinity. Not a clear vote for anyone.
Got that? Good.
Now, imagine the wide range of possible ballots with some kind of mark that falls between the two aforementioned marks in their level of ambiguity. Consider a set of maybe fifty ballots laid out end to end on a whopping big table, the clear vote for a candidate on one end, the crazy mark that you can’t really assign to any candidate on the other.
Now you — yes you! — alone, and all by yourself, must walk back and forth in front of this table and find the one single ballot that is definitely a vote for a particular candidate that is sitting next to the almost identical ballot that is definitely not a vote for any candidate.
You must decide where this line … the line by which we decide if a person’s vote is accepted vs. not … shall be drawn, and everyone has to obey your ruling forever thereafter.
Now, if you think you would be comfortable doing that, then you are a moron and you need to go away. We have nothing more for you here. Be gone. But I think, rather, that you would figure differently. You would figure that you’d prefer to consult with a few people. Maybe look at precedence from similar spectra drawn from different ballots that show a parallel but different situation. You might not want to draw a stark line at all. You’d want to think about it.
Well, presto and abracadabra, with this rather reasonable thought process you’ve just recreated the situation that several hundred people scattered across the state of Minnesota were in during the recount process. No one was willing, and appropriately so, to draw that line in the exact place the line would eventually be drawn. Everyone was much more comfortable challenging a few ballots that were not clearly a certain thing (or clearly not a certain thing, or whatever) in order to make sure that the totality of that those that were challenged INCLUDED and did not EXCLUDE that line between valid and invalid. You can sit on your ass and tell me that that should have been 10 percent more ballots than valid for challenging, or maybe not 15, but again, that would make you a dumb monkey. We are lucky to have one in ten valid challenges given these circumstances. One in ten means everyone is doing their job exceedingly well. One in twenty even. This is how vagueness, uncertainty, and ever changing perceptions as more information is obtained stuff works.
I know this is really hard for most reporters to understand. Really hurts the brain to think of nuance, ambiguity, and complexity. Oh Lord, will you ever get through such a thought without having a concussion? I doubt it. But like it or not, this is the way it is. The process is big, complex, a bit subtle, and it takes time.
Today the state canvassing board finished going through the ballots that were challenged by Franken during the recount. These included ballots that were slated for Coleman but that the Franken team felt were either Franken votes (rare, possibly none of these held up under scrutiny) or that were not really Coleman votes for some reason (fairly common, quite a few held up under scrutiny) or were votes that were originally not allocated to either candidate but should have been allocated to Franken (again, quite a few of these).
Today the state Supreme Court (which in Minnesota is the high court) heard arguments buy Coleman’s side to have counties stop looking at absentee ballots that are considred likely to have been inappropriately rejected. I happen to agree with Jay Weiner who predicts that they will come back with a 5-3 ruling telling Coleman to stuff it.
Today esoteric and pretty much no-where arguments were heard by the Canvassing Board (who has been looking at the ballot challenges) by Coleman’s side that funny stuff was happening with duplicated ballots. This is not going to be considered further by the canvassing board beyond a brief discussion tomorrow, I predict, and could be a court challenge later. But probably not.
Tomorrow the canvassing board returns to the job of looking at challenges. They will now do the challenges issued by the Coleman side, which outnumber the Franken challenges 2:1.
And we’ll all be watching. Patiently.