Ritchie: Panel could hear ballot requestState Canvassing Board will meet Tuesday
By: Scott Wente, Worthington Daily Globe
ST. PAUL — While local election officials plan for the U.S. Senate race recount, Minnesota’s election chief signaled Friday a vote-certifying panel could hear requests to have some rejected absentee ballots included.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said he would not comment on whether the state Canvassing Board, which meets Tuesday, would accept a potential request to include in the vote total absentee ballots improperly rejected.
“If it’s brought to the Canvassing Board, it will be up to the Canvassing Board to decide how to act,” Ritchie said.
That came after Ritchie said earlier that such a request would have to be handled in court.
On Thursday, Democrat Al Franken’s campaign sued Ramsey County to obtain a list of voters whose absentee ballots were rejected, claiming it was concerned some of those were wrongly excluded. Republican Sen. Norm Coleman’s campaign criticized the request, saying it could lead to voter harassment.
Much attention will be on the Canvassing Board’s Tuesday meeting, when it will reconcile counties’ vote totals with any changes found in post-election audits before making the election results official. That action triggers the recount, to begin Wednesday.
But Ritchie said the board also will hear any vote-related issue brought before it, such as a request to have some rejected ballots reinstated. The board includes Ritchie, two Supreme Court justices and two Ramsey County district judges.
The Canvassing Board also will consider disputed ballots after counties complete the recount.
Election officials, independent groups and the Coleman and Franken campaigns are gearing up for the state-mandated recount of the nearly 2.9 million ballots cast in the race, which unofficial results show Coleman leading by 206 votes.
Coleman’s lead recount attorney late Friday sent a letter to Ritchie, complaining of the secretary’s position on whether the Canvassing Board should consider a request about rejected absentee ballots, should that occur when the panel meets. The campaign also took issue with state Director of Elections Gary Poser, who told reporters Friday that he had told as many as a dozen counties that he believed the names of voters whose absentee ballots were rejected are public information.
“We find it quite troubling that members of your office charged with running the recount are taking legal positions in public as to pending litigation ...” Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak wrote to Ritchie.
Recount plans are being finalized in Minnesota’s 87 counties and some cities conducting their own recount. Ritchie said his office will send staff to help a number of counties seeking state assistance. Those counties are Morrison, Todd, Stevens, Lac Qui Parle, Wright and Scott.
“They need more people,” Ritchie said of staffing concerns.
The state will reimburse each county 3 cents for each ballot recounted, Ritchie said.
While the Franken and Coleman campaigns are planning to staff recount locations with attorneys and volunteers, three election-minded organizations said they will team up to enlist upward of 250 volunteers to monitor the recount. The group said it will be present, possibly at every recount location, to ensure election laws and recount procedures are followed.
“This is about protecting the integrity of the process,” said Mark Halvorson, director of Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota.
Halvorson’s organization is joining with state chapters of League of Women Voters and Common Cause, which bills itself as a government watchdog group, to monitor the Senate recount as well as three legislative race recounts. The coalition describes itself as the only nonpartisan observers of the recount.
Also Friday, Ritchie, a Democrat, criticized the Franken campaign for promoting a story Thursday of an elderly Beltrami County woman whose absentee ballot was rejected because her signature did not match her voter-registration signature because she had suffered a stroke.
After Beltrami County’s top elections official said that did not happen, Franken’s campaign backed off the story Thursday evening. A spokesman said the campaign would continue to investigate that and other possible problems with rejected absentee ballots.
“I was very unhappy when people said that a certain absentee ballot was improperly rejected in Beltrami and that the information was not true,” Ritchie said.
He had similar criticisms for Republicans who have told a story of absentee ballots stowed in a Minneapolis poll workers vehicle following the election.
That never happened, Ritchie said.
Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.