Minnesotans can vote with confidence that the 2016 election results will reflect their will. The state has one of the most honest and accurate election systems in the country. We have a national and international reputation for doing elections well.
This statement is backed by first-hand knowledge. As a Minnesota Supreme Court justice, I served on several state canvassing boards and I heard many election cases, including the 2008 Coleman/Franken Senate contest. I have presented papers nationally and internationally on Minnesota elections. I want to reiterate that Minnesota has a reputation for professionalism, honesty and integrity in its elections.
No Minnesota election held, reviewed and scrutinized in the past two decades was “rigged” — even though some continue to believe they were. In every case reviewed, there was little or no evidence of fraud or malfeasance by voters or public officials.
Elections are not perfect. Despite our best efforts, voters and public officials make mistakes. The mistakes are normally inadvertent and do not rise to the level of criminal activity or malfeasance. Mistakes can result in votes not being counted because they are legally invalid. Carelessness, negligence, ignorance and even incompetence are the main culprits that cause disenfranchisement.
Elections are fallible processes subject to the same frailties we all have as human beings. While errors do happen, the good news is that with proper education, attention and diligence, they can be curtailed. For example, many Minnesota residents can be better educated on whether they are eligible to vote in a state election and on where they can and should cast their ballot.
It is dangerous to our form of government to promote a message that our elections are generally “rigged” and “rife with fraud.” A recent Star Tribune poll showing Minnesotans are divided on the question of “rigged” elections confirms that this message is meeting with success (“ ‘Rigged’ vote claim splits state,” Oct. 26).
It is understandable that people are skeptical, given the historic evidence. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, election fraud, malfeasance and rigging were elevated to an art form by partisan political operatives. Fraudulent acts by public officials in Illinois and Texas likely cost Richard Nixon the presidency in 1960. Improper acts by some election officials and recount judges denied Minnesota Gov. Elmer L. Andersen re-election in 1962, a contest decided by 91 votes. Human error, negligence and mechanical failure cost Al Gore Florida’s electoral votes and the presidency in 2000, even though he received more votes nationally than George W. Bush.
Nevertheless, the current skepticism among Minnesotans, while understandable, is not supported by recent events in our state.
The message that elections are rigged helps to perpetuate the myth that the result of Minnesota’s 2008 Senate race was driven by fraudulent actions. It was not. Regardless, recent explicit and implicit attempts by partisan think tanks, op-ed writers and some national commentators continue to maintain that it was.
I am disappointed by the implications in a recent commentary by former Sen. Norm Coleman (“In America, we raise questions if needed but accept the results,” Oct. 30). While the content of the article was subtle and the message nuanced, the senator clearly implied that fraud likely prevented his re-election and that it can happen again in 2016. For a long time I have admired Coleman for his distinguished public service to our state on so many different levels. But his comments are troubling because, either by design or inadvertently, they feed into voters’ paranoia about elections. The senator knows fraud and malfeasance did not decide the 2008 election. The State Canvassing Board, a three-judge panel of district court judges and a unanimous state Supreme Court concluded there were no claims of fraud.
In its June 30, 2009, opinion, the court stated that “[n]o claim of fraud in the election or during the recount was made by either party” and that Coleman’s legal counsel represented at oral argument that “Coleman makes no claim of fraud on the part of either voters or election officials.”
When all is said and done, one thing becomes clear about Minnesota’s 2008 Senate election. Al Franken received a plurality of the legally cast votes, and that is how we decide the winner.
In America citizens are sovereign and, as Thomas Jefferson said, are the only “safe depository of the ultimate powers of our society.” They must “inform their discretion by education.” Voting is a right and a sacred privilege. It has two parts: speaking and being heard. Minnesota has a good system in place for voters to speak (voting) and to be heard (counting). Our obligation is to cast our votes — speak — wisely and diminish, if not eliminate, the negligence, ignorance and carelessness that can prevent our voices from being heard.
Paul H. Anderson was a justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court from 1994 to 2013.