Minnesota: A Recount to Count On
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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.
Minnesota's election process is characterized by transparency and
openness. The most recent example is the live online streaming of the
canvassing board's review of the challenged ballots.
In addition, thousands of citizens were involved in the recount as
election judges, partisan challengers or nonpartisan observers, and
several Web sites posted thousands of challenged ballots.
To enhance transparency, two of us from Citizens for Election Integrity
witnessed the search for the missing ballots in the Minneapolis
elections warehouse. Early on, one of the party representatives pulled
me aside and whispered, "I want you to keep an eye on them," as he
pointed to the other party representatives. I responded, "Actually, we
are keeping an eye on all of you."
The people, procedures and technology comprising this system are a
model because they minimize problems that historically have undermined
election integrity and voter confidence.
Minnesota's reputation for electoral integrity begins with its choice
of voting technology: voter-marked paper ballots counted by
optical-scan machines. This voting technology is considered one of the
But when elections are close, all systems need an independent check to
verify the results. That is why Minnesota has an automatic manual
recount law that kicks in whenever the margin of victory is below 0.5
A manual recount is the best way to be confident in the accuracy of the results in such a close race.
A meaningful recount is possible because the paper ballots provide a
physical record of each voter's intent and enable a way to
independently verify the machine tally.
Although some have argued that a machine recount would have been
cheaper and quicker than a hand count, it would not have been as
accurate in determining voter intent.
Vote totals typically rise whenever there is a hand recount of a
machine tally, as we've seen in this recount. This is because some
voters mis-mark their ballots — for example, by circling an oval
instead of filling it in — in such a way that optical scanners cannot
detect their intent.
While the Minnesota election process is solid overall, we can learn
from this unprecedented scrutiny how to make the process better.
A number of reforms have been discussed, including streamlining the
absentee ballot process, early voting and improving election-judge
trainings. We support the call for Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to
create a commission to hold public meetings to review Minnesota's
election laws and identify ways to make a good system better.
A manual recount is required not because we distrust the election
system, but because we care enough about this important process to be
as certain as possible of the outcome. What we learn will help improve
our protocols, increase the accuracy of our elections, improve voter
confidence and strengthen our democracy.
A guiding principle of our organization from day one is that every vote that is properly cast must be counted.
Mark Halvorson is founder and director of Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota.
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