The official word from the State Canvassing Board Wednesday was that It would not add rejected absentee ballots to the U.S. Senate race recount. But the discussion surrounding one small subset of those rejected ballots -- those that were mistakenly rejected on Election Day by local election judges -- strongly implied that, one way or another, those ballots eventually will be added to the vote totals of GOP Sen. Norm Coleman and DFL challenger Al Franken.
They should be. An election judge's error should not bar any legitimate ballot from being counted.
But the who and how of a decision to put those mistakenly excluded ballots into the count remained unclear after yesterday's meeting. The Cavassing Board punted the question about whether and how to identify those ballots to a future meeting, likely next week. It asked the attorney general's office to offer advice about the options before the board.
At one point during the meeting, a consensus appeared to be forming around asking county election administrators to sort rejected absentee ballots into categories, as proposed Tuesday by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. Four categories would be those that failed one of the four tests for authenticity spelled out in statute. A "fifth pile" would be ballots rejected for no clear reason, or rejected erroneously. But the board appeared divided over whether the disposition of the "fifth pile" could be determined by the Canvassing Board, or would take a court order.
This newspaper said Tuesday that we think a court ought to resolve the question. It would put the fate of those ballots on firmer legal ground, and ought to enhance the public's confidence in the process.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie indicated at one point that there could be 500 to 1,000 ballots that may have been erroneously rejected on Election Day, though later he appeared to back off from a number that high. With the tally as of this writing giving Coleman a 243-vote lead, it would not take many ballots to make a difference in the outcome. But as Canvassing Board member Kathleen Gearin, a Ramsey County district court judge, said, the real reason to open and count absentee ballots that should have been counted on Election Day is respect for Minnesota voters. If they do their part to comply with election rules, they deserve to have their votes counted.