All eyes were focused on a ballot held up by Minneapolis Election Judge Marge Dolan on Wednesday. She was surrounded, from left, by fellow Judge Julia Nelson, Franken monitor Zev Aelony and Coleman monitors Alan Shilepsky and Nancy Bernard. The recount in the U.S. Senate race was held in a warehouse in northeast Minneapolis.
Here’s a prediction: Al Franken will win the Senate recount.
Here’s a second prediction: A good percentage of Americans will end up believing that the election was stolen from Sen. Norm Coleman.
Why will Franken come out on top? Let’s count the ways. Minnesota law requires election judges to consider voter intent. If, for example, a voter circles a candidate’s name instead of properly filling in a circle next to the name, an optical scanner might not have counted the vote on Election Night. However, in the hand recount, if the intent of the voter is clear, the vote will be counted.
So shouldn’t Coleman get just as many of those votes? Probably not. Low-income voters, immigrants with little voting experience and the elderly are known to make more mistakes marking ballots. Those groups happen to lean toward Democratic candidates. It’s a good bet that Franken will pick up the votes he needs simply because "intent’’ will work in his favor.
Dartmouth College Prof. Michael C. Herron, who has studied the Senate results, told the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein that of the 2.9 million votes cast in Minnesota, 34,000 did not have a recorded vote for Senate. Herron told Stein that a good portion of those were voters who intentionally didn’t vote in the race, but at least some — Stein estimates 8,000 to 10,000 — probably did intend to vote for one of the candidates and simply screwed up in marking their ballots. Based on where the ballots were cast and other factors, Herron bets Franken will win the recount.
So let’s suppose Franken wins. Why will a significant number of Americans believe the redo was rigged?
Because the stolen-election drumbeat has started, and it will only get louder as the results of the recount get more national attention. Ignoring Minnesota law, talk-show hosts are already questioning why any ballot that’s not marked properly in the first place should be valid in a recount. Intent is a concept they would rather not grasp.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, bringing her unique view of reality to Fox News on Wednesday night, said Franken "wants to stuff the ballot box with rejected ballots,’’ which "calls into question what the record is and who’s watching the books.’’ (The video is available, so we know she said it. Or was that another "urban legend’’ talking with Sean Hannity?)
There have been real urban legends in this race, including allegations that Franken votes were mysteriously manufactured in the back of a car on Election Night. More of these unsubstantiated, exaggerated and deceptive myths are sure to pop up in the next few weeks, possibly from both campaigns. We can’t wait.
We are witnesses to a slow-motion political train wreck. Once it ends — after numerous challenges, suits and countersuits — a bruised but victorious Franken will limp off to Washington, and a bruised and defeated Coleman will look for work in the private sector. The only winners will be their lawyers.
Most Minnesotans will cringe as the state continues to be a punch line for comedians and an even larger target for Sean and Rush and their buddies. Pity Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who will be vilified in the process. Meanwhile, some of us will continue to believe this state has earned its reputation for running clean elections.
Or not. Maybe none of these guesses are on the mark. Why would the Senate race suddenly pick now as the time to become predictable?
Scott Gillespie is editor of the Star Tribune's editorial pages.