Of this much, Minnesotans can be certain: The recount that will commence next week in the U.S. Senate race will end in disappointment for at least 42 percent of the state's voters. That's the deadlock point in the contest between Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and DFL challenger Al Franken.
Minnesotans need to be able to bank on this, too: The recount will produce as fair and accurate a result as human processes can derive.
So far, they can. Despite a fog of innuendo and misinformation, every preliminary step taken to date by this state's election administrators appears sound. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie deserves a nod of confidence from this state as the recount begins.
The team of jurists chosen to serve with Ritchie on the state Canvassing Board, which will oversee the recount, is outstanding. Four judges of high caliber -- two appointed by GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty, one by former Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura, and one who came to the bench via nonpartisan election -- will join DFLer Ritchie on the board. Their reputations for integrity are unimpeachable. Their role in this process should blunt accusations that, simply because he is a DFLer, Ritchie cannot oversee the recount fairly.
Similarly, the post-election night inspection of reported vote counts, and the care taken to keep ballots secure, should assure Minnesotans of the premium election officials place on obtaining a full and accurate count. Minnesota has earned its reputation for clean elections. If any wrongdoing is attempted in the Senate recount, both campaigns will have armies of lawyers on hand to object.
Allies of Coleman have cast aspersion on the adjustments made to preliminary vote totals as a result of routine rechecking by election judges. Those changes shrank Coleman's unofficial lead from 725 to 206 votes last week -- a swing that GOP partisans strongly imply could not happen without pro-Franken manipulation.
In fact, it's routine for unofficial vote totals to change before counties verify results, and the adjustments made last week were entirely consistent with similar recalculations after other recent elections. The handling of absentee ballots in Minneapolis that arrived too late for delivery to their precincts was also in careful keeping with the law. Those ballots were never "lost" in an election official's car, despite a concerted GOP attempt to suggest otherwise.
Minnesotans came to expect a loose connection with the facts in advertising by the Coleman and Franken campaigns and their allies in the runup to Nov. 4. But the partisans ought to rise to a higher standard now. The election is over. A recount is not a political process. It is an administrative and judicial one, required and governed by explicit state laws.
Attempts to gin up public suspicion about the honesty of the recount won't alter its results. The mudslingers will only damage the reputation of a system essential to orderly democratic self-governance. The legitimacy of elections is grounded in confidence of the public and the participation of civic-minded volunteers. Plant enough doubt about the reliability of elections, and, history teaches, people will find another, less wholesome means to effect a change in government.
Ritchie has been commendably open about explaining what has been done to date, and how the recount will proceed. He should continue to keep voters clued in and to closely follow the law. Meanwhile, Minnesotans should be slow to swallow baseless claims about recount mischief.