MN Secretary of State's Role in Recount Questioned

Amanda Carpenter
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Posted: Nov 25, 2008 12:14 PM
The Minnesota Secretary of State has staked is political reputation on trusting local election officials to ensure integrity in the voting system, but it’s rumored he may be pressuring those same officials to make a controversial decision in favor of Democratic senatorial candidate Al Franken.

The change in his rhetoric about the decision to count rejected ballots in the contentious recount between Franken and GOP incumbent Norm Coleman could have huge ramifications in the race.

“It’s not my job to second guess county  election officials” Secretary Mark Ritche is quoted saying in the Grand Forks Herald. Ritchie says local election officials set the "gold standard" for elections in this press release from his office.

Despite this talk some Republicans fear Ritche may be pressuring the canvassing board that will be meeting tomorrow. This board is empowered to make decisions on behalf of the state regarding the recount. The hard-hitting blog "Minnesota Democrats Exposed" has documented all of Ritchie's statements about the recount  and notices Ritchie has been softening his language about the authority of officials heading the recount and giving more instruction on what should be done.

At the heart of the issue is a forthcoming decision by the canvassing board on whether or not to count incorrectly marked absentee ballots, most of which fall in Franken's favor. Some absentee ballots were marked odd things, like "lizard people" as a write-in and were tossed out on Election Day. Franken, who trails Coleman by a narrow margin, wants those ballots to be reviewed. The board is scheduled to hold a meeting tomorrow, although it is unknown what exactly they'll be discussing.

As the powerful Secretary of State any instruction from Ritchie could influence an independent decision by the canvassing board. It's very likely Ritchie is being pressured by Democratic operatives to do just this despite his previous statements. A Franken win would put the Democrats one seat closer to a 60-seat Senate majority that could be sealed with a loss of GOP incumbent Saxby Chambliss to Democrat Jim Martin in Georgia next week in a run-off election.

Franken operatives know making a case for the absentee ballots may be their last shot at wiining the Senate seat, short of pursuing a legal strategy after Coleman is named the winner.  Also in Franken's favor is the fact that a Thanksgiving Day Eve announcement from the canvassing board would escape critical media attention through the holiday weekend.

For this reason, GOP-ers are keeping a close eye on Ritchie and the board today and tomorrow.