The legal disputes are finally finished in the Coleman-Franken Senate election in Minnesota, with the ruling by the MN Supreme Court. Though it was a torturous path, we can say today that the recount and following resolution was a success -- and ask what the recipe for success was, and whether it is a recipe for others to use in the future. It's particularly important to look at that recipe because of views like this one:
Coleman v. Franken will set the governing standard for analysis of Equal Protection claims in post-election disputes over which candidate won, and Bush v. Gore will constitute a narrow exception to that governing standard.
(For more, see the MN Post's analysis.)
So what exactly is that election process recipe that enabled MN to actually resolve an incredibly close election? Here is my version, drawn from remarks of MN's Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, and other MN election officials:
- statewide use of paper ballots, counted using optical scan tabulators;
- hand marking of paper by ballots by those able and willing to do so;
- electronic ballot marking devices available as an alternative to hand marking;
- vote by mail for voters who expect not to be able to vote in person;
- vote by mail also available as a form of early voting;
- a statewide voter registration system including same-day voter registration;
- uniform state-wide standards for conducting same-day registration procedures for identification and reporting;
- a statewide practice of each county automatically auditing the machine count, using common standard procedures;
- county-level procedures for determining the admissability of vote-by-mail ballots and provisional ballots.
Though the last element was the focus of much of the legal wrangling, the net effect of this entire recipe was an election process, including the recount part of it, that was highly transparent and credible. The transparency was the result of the public conduct and reporting of the election process. The credibility resulted in part from the benefits of the hybrid system (see earlier posts for more info) and partly because citizens felt that they knew enough to form their own opinions about the recount. This latter point is illustrated by a story from Mark Ritchie, based on the publication on the Internet of images of disputed ballots. Ritchie reported that a proverbial irate elderly woman stopped him on the street and showed him a printout of one of these images, complaining that they didn't record that ballot's votes correctly; but aside from that one mistake, she said, the election folks were doing a fine job, keep up the good work!
Of course, I love this story because it's an illustration of technology fostering transparency, citizen awareness, and ultimately, confidence. But the story is also a great illustration of the public benefit that derives from that particular recipe using in that particular election in MN. It may not be the best recipe -- certainly there is room for improvement -- and it may not be right for every state, but the result of using that recipe is an outcome that sets a great goal for other states.
PS: Tomorrow: an improved recipe for less controversy in recounts!