A vote for Sen. Lizard PeopleST. PAUL — Sen. Lizard People? That odd question arose as the State Canvassing Board Thursday reviewed a Senate ballot that may have been a vote for Al Franken – except that the voter also added “Lizard People” as a write-in candidate.
By: Scott Wente Bemidji Pioneer, Worthington Daily Globe
ST. PAUL — Sen. Lizard People?
That odd question arose as the State Canvassing Board Thursday reviewed a Senate ballot that may have been a vote for Al Franken – except that the voter also added “Lizard People” as a write-in candidate.
The Bemidji voter’s vote did not count in the tight U.S. Senate race that drew even tighter Thursday when Sen. Norm Coleman’s lead was nearly erased.
The exact Coleman lead is unclear, and thousands of disputed ballots remain to be counted, but most media covering the canvassing board figure the incumbent holds a single-digit lead.
The first three days of the canvassing board’s work featured plenty of unusual ballot markings, but the Lizard People vote was one that stuck in many minds.
“It’s the weirdest thing,” observed board member Kathleen Gearin, chief Ramsey County district judge.
“No, it’s not the weirdest thing,” replied Eric Magnuson, fellow board member and the state Supreme Court chief justice, referring to the variety of bizarre ballot issues the board has faced.
Prank or person, the Lizard People episode demonstrated the importance of following instructions when filling out a ballot.
“If somebody’s going to vote and they want to make a statement of some sort, they may not get their vote counted,” Gearin declared. “This is an example of that.”
Franken and Coleman both lost possible votes this week as the State Canvassing Board waded through hundreds of ballots that voters marked with stray lines, ink blobs, smiley faces, abstract artwork and names both familiar and strange – Ronald Reagan, Jesse Ventura and “Flying Spaghetti Monster.”
“I don’t think Minnesotans get as much credit for how creative we are,” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said.
The board also looked at ballots that voters properly filled out but also wrote on. Those included political statements and, in at least one case, a tepid endorsement: A voter filled in Franken’s oval, then wrote next to the candidate’s name, “just because he is on the Democratic ticket.” That ballot was awarded to Franken, but other Minnesotans lost their Senate vote by placing a mark between two candidates’ ovals, even if the mark entered one of the two ovals.
Canvassing board members awarded votes only if they were certain who the voter intended.
Most of the ballot challenges before the canvassing board this week don’t include hand-written comments or random scribbles. And by the end of the day Thursday, the board had reviewed more than 1,000 of the estimated 1,500 ballot challenges brought by the Franken and Coleman campaigns.
Ritchie said the board will review the final 300 to 500 ballot challenges today.
Those include some challenges the Coleman campaign said deal with votes counted twice during the recount. Some canvassing board members said they are concerned double counting might have occurred, but the board may not have authority to take up the issue. Instead, that might be reserved for an election lawsuit.
“If the claim is that the local election official did something in error, the statutes clearly prescribe the method of addressing that, and it isn’t here,” Magnuson said.
The board is expected to decide how to handle that issue this morning.
Canvassing board members chuckled at some of the ballot challenges brought before them. Ritchie, the board’s chairman, said that the number of controversial ballots that were challenged is just a fraction of the 2.9 million votes cast during the election.
“This is a really small number of ballots to have those kinds of questions,” he said.
Still, Ritchie said, the recount and the canvassing board’s ballot challenge review shows there is more his office can do to educate voters.
The board only is counting votes in the Senate race, but often reviews an entire ballot to see how the voter marked other races.
Board members occasionally pulled out thick blue Minnesota statute books to seek guidance on how to interpret a ballot. They did so for a ballot with a marked-in Franken oval and an oval-shaped mark to the right of Coleman’s name. That helped the board decide it was a Franken vote.
“That’s where reading the statutes was important,” Gearin said wryly. “That’s probably why they write them.”
Watch the canvassing board beginning at 9 a.m. today at www.house.leg.state.mn.us/htv/schedule.asp
Scott Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.