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Live Blog: Fair Elections in Minnesota

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9:40 a.m. The Center for the Study of Politics and Governance is hosting a conference on elections administration entitled, "The Minnesota Tradition of Fair Elections."

9:45 a.m. The first panel, "The Minnesota Gold Standard," includes:
· Edward B. Foley, Professor, Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University and Director, Election Law at Moritz
· Mark Ritchie, Secretary of State, Minnesota
· Joe Mansky, Ramsey County Elections Manager, Ramsey County
· Moderator: Lawrence R. Jacobs, Professor, Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota

9:46 a.m. Moderator Larry Jacobs explains why the Minnesota elections system in its recount (statewide standards) differs from and is superior to that of Florida's recount in the presidential election (county standards).

9:49 a.m.Professor Foley begins by lauding Minnesota by stating that election administrators around the country believe Minnesota is 'the' standard, in terms of professionalism and accountability in its administration of elections. With regards to the recount in the U.S. Senate race, Foley says when the dust settles Minnesota will look favorably, when compared to the statewide recounts of Florida in 2000 and the 2004 gubernatorial recount in the state of Washington in 2004. The reason, he adds, is that the Gopher State minimizes the number of things campaigns can fight over.

9:55 a.m.Foley states Minnesota has a tradition of openness and a 'good government culture.' Foley has been impressed with the actions of the Canvassing Board so far. Mistakes will happen in any election recount, with the missing 133 ballots and the challenge of what to do with rejected absentee ballots being the two high profile issues in the '08 Senate recount. Foley says Minnesota's rate of rejected absentee ballots in 2008 (5 percent) is notably higher than the national average, and that is something that needs to be improved.

10:09 a.m. Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky says there was an increase of 32 percent in absentee ballots in 2008 compared to 2004. Most of that increase, he adds, was not due to people being out of town or out of state, but simply wanting to vote early (the lines in Ramsey County on November 3rd were very long). Of the rejected absentee ballots in Ramsey County, Mansky estimates approximately 100 or 110 were improperly rejected, with just 2 errors made by County office staff, and the other 100 by election judges.

10:11 a.m. At least 90 percent of Ramsey County ballot challenges were frivolous, says Mansky.

10:14 a.m. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says the similarities between the 1962 and 2008 statewide recounts in Minnesota are 'stunning.' Ritchie states the people's addiction to data and daily tabulations of the recount created a process where it was impossible to feed the media's desire to know 'who is up and who is down.' Ritchie says "nobody knows who is going to win," and critizes Mansky who has stated on occasion that Franken cannot make up the few hundred vote deficit.

10:22 a.m.Ritchie says he made a great effort to increase the number of absentee ballots by Minnesota armed services personnel overseas. Ritchie says there were early attempts to kill the recount and partisans were successful in casting a ‘disgraceful’ cloud over local election officials. Ritchie says he can take the criticisms of himself, such as that he “is a communist,? as he is not a politician and this is not his life – his life is family, farming, and agriculture. But the attacks on professional election officials is beyond shameful he adds, and it continues including from “on of our members of Congress.?

10:24 a.m. Attacks on the system and the integrity of election officials include "801 ballot challenges in a small county."

10:29 a.m. Mansky says he knows for certain that a true winner can be decided in an election (in response to a New York Times piece which says there is no way the true winner will be known in Minnesota and that it should be determined by a coin flip). Mansky says approximately 2 votes out of 1,000 will have markings on them that make it difficult to determine voter intent.

10:34 a.m. Ritchie attacks the New York Times for its piece that called the Minnesota recount "doomed" - saying the paper did not take the story seriously (by assigning a lifestyle reporter to the story).

10:41 a.m. Ritchie takes issue with the characterization by Jacobs that it is the "Franken campaign's characterization" that the 133 ballots are "missing;" Ritchie says that is "spin originating from press releases" and that the Minneapolis election officials, who are "among the best in the nation ... say they are missing, so they are missing."

10:51 a.m. Mansky says media coverage of the recount has been very good thus far.

11:00 a.m. The second panel today, "The Minnesota Tradition of Fair Elections," is comprised of:
· Vice President Walter Mondale
· Tom Swain, former Chief of Staff to Elmer Andersen
· Moderator: Lori Sturdevant, Editorial Writer/Columnist, Star Tribune

11:05 a.m. A statement was read from the moderator by Congressman Jim Ramstad, who was scheduled to attend the conference but had to remain in Washington, D.C. this morning. Ramstad believes the Canvassing Board has done an outstanding job and that rejected absentee ballots should be opened and counted, if cast properly.

11:08 a.m. Vice-President Mondale says the 1962 election recount was fair through and through, and Tom Swain agrees with that characterization. Swain says "there was not a single incident of fraud." He says 97,000 ballots were challenged in that race. He says if only one leg on an "X" on a ballot was missing, that vote was counted, but if two legs on an "X" were missing (making it a 'V") then that was a miscast ballot. In the end, about 1,000 ballots ended up between the three-judge tribunal. The recount took 4.5 months, but Governor Elmer Andersen never once asked his Chief of Staff Swain how it was going. That recount, he says, helped Minnesota richly earn its reputation of fair elections.

11:18 a.m. Swain says, as to the political fallout from the 1962 defeat, that although Republicans were disappointed they accepted the defeat: "We were just 91 votes short...the Democrats won fair and sound." Vice President Mondale says there was an easy transition from Elmer Andersen to Governor Rolvaag. The 1962 election was the first for a 4-year term for governor.

11:24 a.m. Swain says 10,000 workers were involved in the 1962 recount. Swain says with early voting comes an increased chance of problems. In his town, he adds, 3 out of the 112 people that voted early also came to vote on Election Day (and one individual twice). Though, he jokes, "Maybe they forgot...our town has a large elderly population."

11:36 a.m. The final presenter, speaking on "Strengthening Minnesota's Tradition of Excellence in Elections Administration," is Rachel Smith, Anoka County Elections Manager and lead on the Elections Administration Project at the Humphrey Institute.

11:39 a.m. Smith is concerned about the recruiting of new elections administration officials, saying there will be a significant turnover in officials in the coming years.

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