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Impressive unanimity: The historical significance of Coleman v. Franken PDF  | Print |  Email
By Analysis by Edward B. Foley   
July 01, 2009
This analysis was published at

Now that Norm Coleman has conceded in the aftermath of today's unanimous Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, the eight-month-long battle to determine who won last November's election for the state's U.S. Senate seat is finally over.  Even as the concession eclipses the opinion in political importance—and appropriately so—the opinion will begin its life as one of the most legally significant resolutions of a disputed election in U.S. history. 
Its historical significance lies in the fact that it is the first appellate court resolution of a major statewide election after Bush v. Gore.  The seven-month dispute over Washington's gubernatorial election of 2004 resulted in a trial court ruling, but it was never appealed.  Puerto Rico's disputed gubernatorial election of the same year did result in a 4-3 decision of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court (as well as a federal appeals court decision declining to intervene), but that precedent lacks the direct relevance to future U.S. elections that today's decision has.

Today's opinion discusses Bush v. Gore and its treatment of that U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 2000 presidential election is the most important judicial analysis of that precedent to date.  The reason for its importance is that it analyzes Bush v. Gore in a setting most comparable to Bush v. Gore itself: a post-election fight over which candidate won more votes.   Citations to Bush v. Gore in other contexts, like pre-election disputes over how to count provisional ballots, are merely invocations of that precedent for whatever analogical force it might have.  Coleman v. Franken is a consideration of Bush v. Gore in a situation where it most closely applies. 
The Minnesota Supreme Court opinion, like the unanimous trial court ruling it affirms, holds that the Equal Protection principle of Bush v. Gore is not violated when a state statute provides a clear and specific rule for local officials to follow in the counting of ballots, even if some local officials fail to follow that clear rule.  As long as the local officials' failure to follow the clear and specific state rule, even if deliberate, was not designed to favor one candidate over another (or otherwise discriminate improperly among classes of citizens), that failure—while regrettable—is not unconstitutional.

Read the Entire Analysis at
Minnesota: A Recount to Count On PDF  | Print |  Email
By Mark Halvoson, Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota   
December 22, 2008
This editorial appeared in the Pioneer Press and is reposted with permission.

As nonpartisan election integrity advocates with front-row seats at the U.S. Senate recount, we believe Minnesotans can be confident the process has been methodical and fair. The intense scrutiny given to each step of the process and to each vote in the Senate recount has provided an incredible civics lesson for Minnesotans and the nation.

Hundreds of Minnesotans have volunteered as nonpartisan observers in at least one of four statewide manual counts — the 2006 and 2008 post-election audits, the 2008 judicial primary recount and, now, the U.S. Senate recount. These efforts were organized by Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota in partnership with the League of Women Voters Minnesota and Common Cause Minnesota.

Our volunteers who were trained to be impartial observers signed a code of conduct and completed observation surveys. According to one observer, "After my first day I felt proud that our process was so transparent in Minnesota and confident that our election could not be stolen by one party or another because we had such a good recount process."

Here's what we've learned:

Our current election laws effectively prevented the chaos that could have clouded the process.
Why Minnesota's Recount Process is a Model for the Country PDF  | Print |  Email
By Mark Halvorson, David Klein, and Pamela Smith   
November 22, 2008
With a celebrity candidate and record-setting expenditures the race to represent Minnesota in the US Senate captured the nation’s attention even before the historically close margin was announced. An automatic, manual recount of the Minnesota U.S. Senate race that began could last until mid-December. As non-partisan, election integrity advocates in Minnesota, we welcome this attention and hope that one of the outcomes will be lessons learned that strengthen our democracy.

One reason for our optimism is that Minnesota’s election system minimizes problems and circumstances that have historically reduced voter confidence. The occurrence of such problems and circumstances in other states plagued the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. The people, procedures, and technology comprising Minnesota’s election system are among the most respected in the nation. Minnesota’s election system has great potential to certify results that accurately reflect the will of the voters and in which voters can have confidence.
Discerning Voter Intent in the Minnesota Recount PDF  | Print |  Email
By Ed Felten, Princeton University   
November 22, 2008
This article was posted at Ed Felten's Freedom-to-Tinker Blog and is reposted here with permission.

Minnesota election officials are hand-counting millions of ballots, as they perform a full recount in the ultra-close Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken. Minnesota Public Radio offers a fascinating gallery of ballots that generated disputes about voter intent.

A good example is this one:

A scanning machine would see the Coleman and Franken bubbles both filled, and call this ballot an overvote. But this might be a Franken vote, if the voter filled in both slots by mistake, then wrote "No" next to Coleman's name.

Other cases are more difficult, like this one:

Do we call this an overvote, because two bubbles are filled? Or do we give the vote to Coleman, because his bubble was filled in more completely?

The Scoop on the Minnesota Senate Race Recount PDF  | Print |  Email
By Chisun Lee, ProPublica   
November 14, 2008
This article appeared at ProPublica.

Unlike many states, Minnesota has a solid idea of how well its machines scan ballots because it randomly audits samples of votes. One test found only one error out of 12,000 ballots. Another turned up as many as 53 "discrepancies" -- between a machine's and a human's read -- out of 94,000.

That's impressively accurate for voting machines. But it's not precise enough to predict who'll triumph in the U.S. Senate race between Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken. They're currently separated by 206 votes out of 2.9 million cast.

Coleman's unofficial lead amounts to .007 percent of the vote, easily triggering Minnesota's required recount of any race closer than .5 percent.

In a few days, election workers will begin scrutinizing every single ballot cast in the race. Minnesota uses optical scan ballots -- fill in the bubble -- so hanging chads are not an issue.

The outcome has national stakes, as a Franken victory would move Democrats closer to a 60-vote super-majority in the Senate.

For those interested in election reform, the recount promises added drama. The pros know that no voting system designed, used and overseen by humans can be perfect. Voters may not follow directions. Machines can misread stray marks or just break. Workers typing up machine results can leave off the "1" in "124" (that mistake got caught last week in Minnesota).

Minnesota, however, has gotten unusually high marks from experts for its record of election oversight. That record, nonpartisan watchdogs say, stems largely from practices that other states could import. The recount will test how well Minnesota's procedures hold up under the closest scrutiny.

Minnesota Cites Paper Ballots As Factor in Quick Election Recount PDF  | Print |  Email
By Government Techology News Report   
September 23, 2008
This article appeared in Government Technology.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (pictured at right) last week announced that the statewide recount initiated on Wednesday, Sept. 17 is complete. Results were received by the Secretary of State from all 87 counties before Friday at 3 p.m.

The state canvassing board will be asked to certify the candidacy of Deborah Hedlund on Sunday, Sept. 21 to face candidate Lorie Gildea in the Nov. 4 general election race for associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Ritchie reported that no challenged ballots have been reported throughout the entire state in the recount. Preliminary results indicate that Hedlund received 1,341 votes more than the third place candidate Jill Clark.

"To my knowledge, this is the fastest statewide manual recount ever done in America," stated Ritchie. "Since all Minnesotans vote on paper ballots we are able to confirm the outcome of our elections through this process, unlike some states who do not vote on paper ballots."

The Office of the Secretary of State enlisted the assistance of county auditors and some city clerks in this effort. The recount took place across the state in over 100 locations.

"I am extremely proud of the work and professionalism displayed by county and local officials during this recount process," Ritchie said. "Their diligence and cooperation have kept this election year on track. Thanks to their efforts absentee ballots will be ready for distribution on time." Statewide results, including those from the recount in the Independence Party house district 3A primary race, will be presented for consideration at the official meeting of the state canvassing board that will be convened by the secretary of state on Sunday, Sept. 21, at 1:00 in Room 15 in the State Capitol.
Landmark Election Recount Bill Becomes Law in Minnesota PDF  | Print |  Email
By Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota   
May 19, 2008
Minnesota continues to improve its election transparency and accountability standards with passage of an innovative law allowing losing candidates to call for manual recounts in select precincts. Called the “partial discretionary recount,” the law believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, is a cost-effective way for candidates to have the election results in specific precincts verified.  
The law expands on provisions of Minnesota’s recount law which provides for recounts in races within a margin of victory of 0.5%. Under the new added provision, candidates in any contest with a 5% margin of victory may call for a hand recount, at their expense, of up to three precincts. If the requested recount shows a difference greater than 0.5% compared to the Election Day results, there will be hand recounting of additional precincts. That could lead to a contest-wide recount if more disparities between the reported results and the hand counts are discovered. 
The requesting candidate is responsible for the initial recount expenses – unless the outcome of the race is changed by the recount. In that case, the election body that has jurisdiction over the miscounted ballots will be liable for associated costs (which is generally staff time). The financial burden often deters candidates from seeking a recount. This bill makes recounts more accessible.
The bill was passed unanimously by both the Minnesota House and Senate and was signed into law Saturday, May 17, by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Look to Minnesota for Vote-Counting Solution PDF  | Print |  Email
By Edwar B. Foley, Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University   
December 19, 2007

Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is concerned that computers used to count ballots at precincts are vulnerable to hacking. In a major report released last Friday, she recommends instead counting ballots centrally at Ohio's 88 county boards of election.
Whatever the risk of hacking, however, it is a mistake to eliminate the counting of ballots at local precincts.

Ballots have been known to go missing during transport from precinct to main office. In the old days, ballot boxes sometimes would end up in the river. In 2006, during the much-troubled May primary in Cuyahoga County, election officials misplaced 70 cartridges containing the votes from 200 precincts.

A better way to address Brunner's concern would be to count ballots twice, first at the precincts and then again after they've arrived at headquarters. That way, if ballots were lost en route, voters would not be disenfranchised.

The general point is that we should rely on recounts, or audits, to address our concerns about potential counting errors, including those caused by software sabotage. There are different types of recounts, machine and manual, as well as different types of audits. A mandatory audit of 10 percent of precincts, no matter how close the margin of victory, is obviously stricter than an initial audit of only 3 percent of precincts unless the result is close enough to require a more rigorous review.

Given the concerns raised by Brunner's report, as well as the potential significance of Ohio to the 2008 presidential election, it would be appropriate to plan an especially rigorous audit of next November's election.


Read the Entire Editorial at the Columbus Dispatch 

Report of Minnesota's Post Election Audit Released PDF  | Print |  Email
By Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota   
April 04, 2007

Click Here to Download the CEIMN Audit Report


Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota (CEIMN) have released their report and analysis of Minnesota's first post election audit. The purpose of the audit was to assess the accuracy of the state's optical scan voting machines. Working with the League of Women Voters Minnesota, CEIMN organized 208 volunteers in 70 counties to observe Minnesota's first post election audit - the nation's first statewide citizen observation of a post election audit.

Among the report's findings:

- post election audits are a viable and cost effective way to verify election outcomes
- the voting machines audited were very accurate in counting the ballots
- volunteer observers' reports provide useful feedback to improve audit protocols
- Minnesota has a compelling model to offer other states
According to CEIMN director, Mark Halvorson, "Having a front row seat in observing the audit provided us with valuable information in the shaping of the report's recommendations, such as counting methods and how the audit data was recorded. We are convinced that post election audits are key to ensuring accurate and verifiable elections. This report will not only help improve the audit protocols in Minnesota, but will help other states as they consider similar audit legislation."

Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that advocates for accurate and verifiable elections. The League of Women Voters, a non-profit, non-partisan organization, encourages informed and active participation in government and influences public plicy through education and advocacy. For more information visit

Minnesota Performs First Post-Election Review PDF  | Print |  Email
By Sean Greene,   
December 14, 2006

State-mandated audit a success, officials and advocates say


This article appeared on and is reposted here with permission of the author.


Minnesota's first-ever post-election review - a manual count of votes from randomly-selected precincts in the state - drew raves from two sides that do not always see eye-to-eye, election officials and advocacy groups.

"I believe that Minnesota has done a most remarkable job at making every vote count and count correctly," said Janet Straub, a Minnesota resident and observer of the post-election review.


Incoming Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (DFL) said he was also impressed.


"I am excited to hear the very positive results from our first reviews. We can all feel a great deal of confidence in our election results - and only hope that other states can catch up to our system before the 2008 elections," he said in a press release from Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota.

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