Campaigns' veto power in recount is decried

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 9, 2009 - 8:53 PM

Legislators said at a hearing that it was a mistake for the high court to give the rivals the power to reject ballots.

State senators and voting rights activists on Friday criticized the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision to give the two campaigns in the U.S. Senate recount the authority to throw out disputed absentee ballots, and one senator said support was building to change state law to prevent that from happening in future recounts.

The testimony came before a Senate committee, which has begun examining possible changes to the state's voting laws following the still-unresolved Senate race between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken. Coleman has legally challenged the state Canvassing Board's decision Monday to certify the results of the recount, which gave Franken a 225-vote lead.

Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, the committee chairwoman, and others said the court's decision to allow some absentee ballots to be counted only if both campaigns agreed to do so -- in effect, giving the campaigns veto power -- was a mistake. "I just found it incredible ... that political campaigns would have the opportunity to tell someone that their ballot can't even be opened. To me, that is a government function and not a campaign function," said Rest.

Rest and Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague, this week also announced they would propose having a runoff election as an alternative to an automatic recount in races where the top vote getters are separated by a half-percentage point or less.

Rest was joined Friday by Mark Halvorson, director of Citizens for Election Integrity-Minnesota, a watchdog group, who called the Supreme Court's decision the "low point in the recount." He added that he "was appalled each time one of the [candidate's] representatives objected to an improperly rejected ballot. They were essentially disenfranchising those voters."

Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, said the recount showed that Minnesota's much-praised election system needs fixing. "What this actually proved to me is that we really do have some major, major flaws in our system. [It's] not as accurate as I thought," he said.

Post-recount poll

In another development, a Survey USA poll found that more Minnesotans want Coleman to give up challenging the recount results than believe he should keep pushing for a second term.

In the poll of 500 Minnesotans, conducted for KSTP-TV and released Thursday, 49 percent of respondents said they disagree with Coleman's effort to overturn the recount result, 42 percent agree and 9 percent are not sure. Asked what they think should happen next, 44 percent surveyed said Coleman should concede, 31 percent want another election and 8 percent want another recount.

Addressing the quality of the recount process, 56 percent said it was fair to both candidates, 31 said it was unfair to Coleman and 3 percent said it was unfair to Franken.

The poll has a 4.5 percentage-point margin of sampling error, plus or minus.

Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report. Mike Kaszuba • 612-673-4388

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