The State Canvassing Board of Minnesota met today to “certify” the election results from earlier this month, and to affirm that the vote was within one half of one percent in the gubernatorial race between Democratic Farm Labor candidate Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer.

Part of that process involves a discussion, which as of this writing is still ongoing, about the procedure for the required recount. There are a number of issues involved, and I will not bore you with all of them. But I will discuss one, because it seems to me that the outcome of today’s canvassing board meeting may guarantee that there will be a successful state supreme court challenge to the Minnesota Gubernatorial recount, presumably on behalf of whomever is determined by the recount to have lost.

This has to do with the distinction between three kinds of ballots: Those that are not challenged, those that are reasonably challenged for some good reason, and a new, third category that sprang into existence just now during the canvassing board meeting: Officially Frivolous Challenges.

Formerly, a “frivolous” challenge was a normal run of the mill challenge made, in the Franken-Coleman recount, that was later identified as frivolous because, well, they looked at a pile of challenged ballots and a whole bunch of the challenges were bogus. Now, “frivolous” will be a category determined as follows: A recount observer representing one candidate or another challenges a ballot. Then, the official overseeing the counting of the ballot at that particular table … a volunteer, a county employee, whatever, but with some training … says “No, that’s a bogus.” The ballot then goes in the “frivolous” pile and is forwarded as such to the canvassing board.

The canvassing board would then review the “challenged” ballots that were not determined to be “frivolous” and ignore the “frivolous” ballots. Well, they may look at them, but most likely they will summarily ignore them, presuming that their classification of bogus challenges is valid. Then, the canvassing board will determine who won the race based on recount by election officials, plus or minus challenges that the board accepts as valid.

Then, the losing side will bring this to the state supreme court and make the perfectly reasonable argument that the “frivolous” ballots have to be looked at. The argument, specifically, will be that only the canvassing board can really tell the frivolity of a ballot. Potential inconsistencies among the various election officials across the state almost guarantees the absence of equal protection of all parties. Then, the canvassing board (or somebody, quite possibly a special administrative panel of the court consisting mostly of canvassing board members) will be ordered by the court to review the “frivolous ballots” (throwing most or all of them out, we assume).

Had the “frivolous ballots” been returned to the piles of recounted ballots without being isolated or specially marked, there would still be a successful court challenge, but one that would be costly and time consuming to respond to. The system they’ve decided on will allow a challenge to be addressed fairly efficiently. However, if all challenged ballots were simply handle the same way, there would be no State Supreme court step. One of the problems with adding the State Supreme Court challenge into the process is this: That court follows no temporal regulation. They can decide to meet in a couple of weeks, hear arguments for a couple of weeks, and then, and then they are not compelled to make a decision right away, or to say when they will make a decision. A supreme court step that involves actual hearing of arguments and the “taking up” of the case can add months, and will certainly add at least weeks, to the process. Dealing with a few thousand challenges that turn out to be frivolous would take four or five working days by the canvassing board.

Another question still being discussed is how the ongoing counts will be included or not included on a daily summary report from each county counting. This is important. If the frivolous count is included in any report, this will cause there to be more frivolous challenges. One of the reasons there were so many frivolous challenges in 2008 is said to be that they served (the Coleman campaign in that case) as a fund-raising tool.

Kudos to Bert Black from the Secretary of State’s office for writing up the new regulation on how to erect and manage the new Officially Frivolous (my term not theirs) category, doomed as it may be.

The canvassing board is in recess for a couple of hours, so I’m off to the gym.

Added: Jay Weiner on the canvassing board activities. Hat tip Ana:

Watch live streaming video from theuptake at


  1. #1 Left Coast Bernard
    November 23, 2010

    I’m not from Minnesota, but I read your post.

    I am confused about frivolous ballots and frivolous challenges as you mention them.

    It seems that there are “frivolously challenged” ballots that should be counted as any other ballot, and then there are “frivolous” ballots, which sound like ones that shouldn’t be counted because the challenge is not frivolous.

    A poll watcher challenges a ballot. Someone at the polling site say, “That’s a bogus.” A bogus what, please? A bogus challenge?

    Then I’m confused about the court that reviews the review of the review. If the court says that the ballot is frivolous, it makes sense to throw it out (not count it). But if when you say “frivolous ballots” you mean frivolously challenged ballots, then it doesn’t make sense to through them out.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    November 23, 2010

    Left: The word “frivolous” is only being used in relation to the challenge, not to ballots. There was no discussion of frivolous ballots today.

    You never throw the ballots out, only the challenges.

    (That depends on what is meant by “throwing out” I suppose .. a vote for The Lizzard People is a vote that is irrelevant becuase that is neither Dayton nor Emmer. But if there is a bit of fly poop next to the bubble for Emmer, the Emmer represenative may challenge the placement of the ballot in the “OTher” pile and ask that it be placed in the “Emmer” pile. That is a challenge. It will be placed in the “Challenged By Emmer” pile and the canvassing board will later look at that ballot to see if it is really an Emmer ballot.

    Under the current system, however, the county worker at the counting table can say, when the Emmer person says “I challenge this ballot and I believe it is a vote for Emmer” or whatever the official verbiage is, “I do not accept this challenge as non-frivolous. That, sir, is a frivolous challenge!” and place the ballot in the “Frivolous Emmer Challenge” pile where it will be ignored by the canvassing board as though there had not been a challenge.

  3. #3 UPDATED: video added
    November 23, 2010

    Jay Weiner interview added

  4. #4 CS
    December 1, 2010

    Sorry to revive an old thread, but the Star Tribune has some examples of “frivolous” challenges here. Having seen these, I can definitely agree with having a “frivolous” category. These ballots are not even close to questionable. Even if Minnesota did not have a liberal “go with the voter’s intent” law, I could see every one of these ballots being accepted as valid votes for Dayton. These kinds of challenges are a waste of everyone’s time.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2010

    The Emmer people are out of control.