Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What is wrong with this picture?

Here's the link.

Coleman campaign continues stall tactics

Today in Anoka and St. Louis counties the Coleman campaign continued to try and stop the sorting of rejected absentee ballots, demanding that some properly rejected ballots also be included. In St. Louis county election officials identified 161 wrongly rejected ballots and the Coleman campaign requested that an additional 22 ballots also be included. Similarly in Anoka county election officials have identified 42 absentee ballots that were improperly rejected and the Coleman campaign refused to consider those ballots unless an additional 5 properly rejected ballots were included.

On a statewide level the Coleman campaign is requesting 654 properly rejected ballots, mostly from strong Coleman counties, be considered in addition to the 1,346 improperly rejected ballots that the county election officials have deemed were rejected in error. I don't know if it was on purpose or not but adding those two numbers together is 2,000 which must be some sort of magical nexus of absentee ballots that results in Coleman netting more than 50 votes.

That was the other thing that happened today, the Canvassing board met to clean up some bookkeeping and that resulted in Franken gaining four more votes. So now the lead is at 50 votes. Out of 2.9 million. Amazing.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Klobuchar: Senate should seat Franken

Okay, she didn't say that exactly.

"If the Canvassing Board declares a winner, that should be our senator," she said, even if a court challenge were to follow. "[The Senate] could seat a senator pending the litigation."

Of course expectations are that Franken will be the one eventually certified by the Canvassing board following the counting of the rejected absentee ballots. There is precedent for this course of action, after the 1996 Louisiana Senate race the Republican controlled Senate seated the Democratic winner, Mary Landrieu, while they investigated claims by Woody Jenkins of widespread fraud, eventually they confirmed Landrieu's election.

This Friday is the deadline for election officials to submit improperly rejected absentee ballots to the Secretary of State and if everything goes as scheduled, by Monday the 5th we should know more about the nature of those votes.

Friday, December 26, 2008

2006 to 2008, Part 1: the House races

With the year ending and year end reviews pilling up I figure it's time to look at the aftermath of this years house races and see how things look going forward.

The races in the eight Minnesota congressional districts from the last two years can be roughly divided into 4 categories;

1 - Incumbents holding steady or strengthening their position: congressional districts 1, 2, 4, 5, 7 and 8 in 2008, congressional districts 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8 in 2006.

2 - Open seats - CD3 in 2008, CD5 and CD6 in 2006.

3 - That rare instance when an incumbent loses a reelection bid which happened in CD1 in 2006.

4 - Michelle Bachmann's district.

Leading up to November 4th there was some deal of expectation that one of Minnesota's traditionally red congressional districts, 3 or 6, would turn blue. In both instances the Republicans held their ground, but there is reason for optimism about our future chances.

First of all, every Democratic incumbent increased on their top line number from 2006 except for Betty McCollum, who declined from 70% to 69%. These are five safe seats for as long as the people sitting in them want to run. In CD2 Kline held steady at 57% which is essentially what he's done the last two years. This is also a safe seat, but the good news is that if and when Kline moves on the DFL should have a decent shot at it. If Sarvi, for example, had run against a generic Republican rather than a three-term incumbent, he could have made a race out of it.

CD3 was disappointing for a lot of DFL activists and that Media lost by a nearly double digit margin didn't help. Eric Paulson didn't hit 50%, he got 49%, but he was facing a well funded opponent and a third party candidate who took 10%. This is a Republican leaning district and although Paulson will likely face a strong challenge in 2010 unless he drinks the same bat-shit crazy juice as Bachmann, he should be favored to win reelection.

This brings us to CD6, home of Michelle Bachmann. There have been many electrons used trying to explain how it was that Michelle Bachmann won reelection even though she seemed to be trying to sabotage her own campaign. Look at the results as compared to 2006.

Bachmann(R-inc) 46%
Tinklenberg(D) 43%
Anderson (I) 10%

Bachmann(R) 50%
Wetterling(D) 42%
Binkowski (I) 7%

It was close in 2008 only because Bachmann made it close, but I think the right candidate could cause Bachmann trouble. She lost 4 points from 2006 to 2008 but the IP listed candidate picked up 3 points. Bachmann may have put the election into play, but Tinklenberg was unable convince a conservative district that he was an acceptable alternative. There were other factors that played a part, including the IP candidate getting 10%, when Tink had the IP endorsement and Tink leaving $500,000 in the bank, but this election was in play for one reason only, Michelle Bachman. For that reason I think this is the DFL's best shot at a pickup in the short term, but that may be a short lived gain.

Redistricting looms and Minnesota faces the likely lose of a house seat, who's seat specifically will be a very contentious issue when the map is redrawn after 2010, but CD6 looks like the easiest one to divide up seeing that it boarders all of the other CDs except CD1. Given that it might make more sense for the DFL to focus on CD3 again in 2010, rather than CD6.

White Elephant

At one of my family gatherings this year we had a White Elephant gift exchange. My contribution was "A New Dawn for America: John McCain for President" the puzzle. Or, the worst campaign material ever produced by anyone, ever. Gaze upon its terribleness.

Words can't do justice to how badly designed this image is. It's even more ironic that it comes in puzzle form, as much of the McCain campaigns actions during the course of the campaign were nothing short of puzzling. But look at the image. It says a New Dawn for America across the top, but the background is twilight. There is a tree that rises out of the ground, but its branches are bear of leaves, or any sign of life at all. Then just sort of dropped on top is a picture of John McCain, staring ahead. It's a scary looking image.

And a hilarious White Elephant gift.

MDE reaches new levels of hyperbole

(From Minnesota Democrats Exposed, 12/24/08)

"2.9 Million Disenfranchised"

That's the headline of the post. Can you guess why 2.9 million will be disenfranchised? Come on, one guess?

The Supreme Court ruled today that 2.9 million voters in the state of Minnesota be left disenfranchised.

Whoever guessed the Minnesota Supreme Court wins a fruitcake. Seriously, anyone want a fruitcake?

Somehow the Minnesota Supreme Court turning down Norm Coleman's petition to delay certification until the duplicate ballot issue is resolved means that all 2.9 million Minnesota voters have been disenfranchised. This is very high level critical thinking we are dealing with. 133 = 2.9 million. I don't know the exact formula used to make that calculation, but I assure you it must be some advanced statistical algorithm that was specially developed to analyze this issue.

That or Ryan pulled it out of his ass.

Even if you accept the argument that double counting could have happened, and there's no evidence that it did, it doesn't mean 2.9 million voters were disenfranchised, it means up to 133 voters got twice the enfranchisement.

Duplicate ballots have become an issue in this recount, 

And why is it that duplicate ballots have become an issue? Was anyone talking about duplicate ballots two weeks ago? No. The only reason that there is an issue is because the Coleman campaign is desperately grasping at any chance to overturn what has become increasingly inevitable, Al Franken will be certified the winner of the election.

anyone who cast a vote in this election should be gravely concerned that their vote may not matter as much as someone else.

Gravely concerned? Really? What about all the people who properly cast absentee ballots that were subsequently rejected? Should they also be gravely concerned? What about all the dead DFLers who voted? They are already gravely concerned, should they be more concerned? What's this about dead DFLers voting?

Team Franken should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for the words in their statement that was released following the Supreme Court's ruling: "We win in Supreme Court."

So let me get this straight. Norm Coleman's campaign files a petition with the Minnesota Supreme Court to halt the certification. The ruling by the Supreme Court, a unanimous ruling by the way, goes in Franken's favor. The Franken campaign responds by saying that the ruling was in their favor. What part of this is shameful?

Team Franken sees winning as turning a blind eye to 2.9 million rightful votes.  Al Franken has showed that he does not care about the integrity of the process, he cares only about a title in front of his name.

This is world class hyperbole. I have wonder if there is some specialized training one needs to create such an immense monument to over the top hyperbole. Truly a sight to behold.

This has only begun what will make this process longer unfortunately.

As long as you keep up the tremendous work Ryan, this process couldn't go on long enough.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Supreme Court rules against Coleman on double counting

In an opinion written by Justice Alan Page the Minnesota Supreme court ruled that any challenges of supposed double counted ballots would need to be resolved by a court hearing, where evidence can be presented and not by the canvassing board. In the short term it means that these ballots will be counted as normal and added to the totals. If Coleman wants to press this issue he will have to file an election challenge.

This came on the heels of an earlier ruling made by the Supremes allowing local election officials more time in submitting improperly rejected absentee ballots to the State Canvassing Board. Now the local officials will have until January 2nd to submit such ballots to the Secretary of State who will have until January 4th to open and count them. On January 5th the challenging of these ballots will begin and the Canvassing board could certify a winner as early as January 6th, although that may be wishful thinking.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pan left, pan left!

During the Television coverage of yesterdays Vikings game, I observed a curious incident. It's the forth quarter and the Vikings have just scored. A camera shows owner Zigi Wilf celebrating in his luxury box, in the background you can see a Menora. Than a moment later the camera pans to the left, taking the Menora out of the shot. The camera pan wasn't caused by Wilf or someone else in his box moving around and the camera repositioning. Wilf didn't move, the camera panned.

My interpretation is this; the camera person found Wilf, focused in on him and didn't notice the Menora. When the director took the shot live the Menora was noticed and director yelled at the cameraman to "pan left, pan left!" And thus Christmas was saved.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Franken campaign claims victory is inevitable

 At a press conference yesterday Franken campaign attorney Mark Elias had this to say about what will happen when the state canvassing board is finished reconciling the withdrawn ballot challenges.

"Al Franken will have a lead of between 35 and 50 votes. And, at some point not too long after that, Al Franken will stand before you as the senator-elect from Minnesota."

The Franken campaign apparently couldn't resist and decided they too needed to jump on the pre-emptive declaration of victory bandwagon. They do actually have some basis for this declaration, even the Star Tribune is now projecting a Franken win by 78 votes and by all accounts the counting of improperly rejected absentee ballots will only help Franken's position. Still, you'd like to think the Franken campaign would learn from the PR mistakes of the Coleman campaign and hold off any such proclamations until after the canvassing board finishes its work.

How effective will Minnesota 2030 really be?

Back in May of this year Governor Pawlenty signed the bipartisan SF2706, or the Minnesota Sustainable Building 2030 law. The bill stipulates that all new and substantially renovated state funded buildings be designed and built to progressively reduce fossil fuel inputs and by 2030 be essentially carbon neutral. The Center for Sustainable Building Research at the University of Minnesota (CSBR) will shape the development of building performance standards and work with state agencies to come up with a plan for implementation. State Senator Yvonne Prettner Solon claims the new building guidelines will save Minnesota almost $300 million dollars by 2050, as for its origins;

"This proposal is an extension of a national initiative called the Architecture 2030 Challenge which is widely supported by architects, planners, professional organizations, and other states around the country."

The Architecture 2030 guidelines have also been adopted by New Mexico, California and Illinois as well as a handful of big cities around the country. The premise of the Architecture 2030 guidelines is that buildings account for almost 50% of the nation's energy use, so reducing the amount of energy that buildings consume most be our top priority. What are the Architecture 2030 guidelines?

  • All new buildings and major renovations shall reduce fossil fuel use by at least 50%.
  • An equal amount of existing building area shall be renovated annually to meet the 50% standard.
  • For all new buildings the percentage of fossil fuel reduction shall be increased to:
    • 60% in 2010
    • 70% in 2015
    • 80% in 2020
    • 90% in 2025

Those are ambitious goals, but they are also attainable goals.

The City of St. Paul is currently working with the CSBR to develop a green building policy for private projects that use city money with the anticipation that the private sector as a whole will eventually have to follow these guidelines. The problem with this sort of patch work approach is similar to what we saw with the smoking ban before its statewide implementation, some amount of private building will be moved to other cities that don't have the same requirements.

That leads to the main problem I have with the bill Minnesota passed, implementation of the 2030 goals by the private sector will be, for the time being, on a voluntary basis. Certainly if a thing is worth doing, than it is worth doing by all parties involved. Why should the private sector be exempt from these new building guidelines while the public sector dives right in?

With the economy in the state that it's in right now there is talk that some of these green initiatives will have to wait until better economic times before they are implemented. I would argue the opposite, that now is the perfect time to roll out a whole new set of nationwide building standards that extend to all sectors of the economy, even military. Why is now the right time?

For one thing there are a lot of newly unemployed construction industry people who could be retrained in designing and building using green techniques and then put back to work on green jobs. Also the construction companies who have survived are likely to be the most efficient and best run, these are the companies that we want to lead the green building revolution. But the most pressing reason is time. We don't have much more of it and if we don't begin to rapidly change our approach to a whole range of issues the coming environmental tsunami will destroy whatever is left of our economy anyway.

All of the big issues now facing us as a country and a state; energy, economy, infrastructure can be linked back to our unsustainable way of life. There has been a noticeable shift in the last few years towards the acceptance of green ways of thinking and acting by all sorts of diverse interests. We cannot let the current financial crisis derail that progress and instead must push to accelerate the process as a means to achieving economic security in the long term.

There are things we can all do and should all do, but there needs to be support for these efforts and by exempting the private sector from the same energy efficiency standards we are requiring of the public sector we are providing excuses for inaction.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stealing 188 votes is easy. So is killing 90 Swedes.

From the December 16 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
(Cast; Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, Willie Geist, Pat Buchanan and Mike Barnicle)

My comments are in bold. Let's roll!

BRZEZINSKI: And with Minnesota's Republican Senator Norm Coleman leading Democratic challenger Al Franken by 188 votes only, today the state's canvassing board will begin inspecting as many as 1,500 disputed ballots. That's a tough one.
SCARBOROUGH: Buchanan, can you steal 188 out of 1,500? That's easy, right?

Amazingly it only takes Joe Scarborough a matter of seconds to show why he's a champion asshat.

BUCHANAN: A hundred and eighty-eight? You can get --
BRZEZINSKI: You can find those in your trunk?
BUCHANAN: -- find them in the trunk up in the Iron Range. They've been lost up there.

That trunk story sure has got legs. You've got to credit the Coleman campaign for coming up with baseless lies that really stick.

MIKE BARNICLE (co-host): Not in Minnesota --
WILLIE GEIST (co-host): Franken people say they're up by four votes.
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, I bet they are.
GEIST: One, two, three, four.
BUCHANAN: In their areas up there, even those good Scandinavian folks would steal a few --
BARNICLE: They don't know how to steal up there.

Before we dive right into the Minnesota stereotypes I would just like to mention that the show Morning Joe is shot in New York City. Look at a map and tell me what is "up there" from New York City because it sure as hell isn't Minnesota.

SCARBOROUGH: Oh, wow. I think --

It sounds like Joe is at first offended by the stereotyping. Then he remembers that he's Joe Scarborough and isn't so sure.

GEIST: They wouldn't do it.
SCARBOROUGH: Don't underestimate them.

Then he dives right in.

BARNICLE: I've been to --
BUCHANAN: You've got a lot of new people up there.

This is code for new non-white people. Oh Patty, your racism is so cute.

BARNICLE: I've been to Minneapolis. They do not know how to steal.

Now this is just stupid. If there is one place in all of Minnesota that knows how to steal its Minneapolis. This guy obviously doesn't have a clue.

GEIST: Hmm, I don't know what that means.
BRZEZINSKI: Both campaigns have pledged to abandon many -- well, all right. Fine -- many of these ballots that are in dispute. But fine. Just move things along, you know what I mean.
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah. Now, I don't think -- and to my good friends at Media Matters -- I don't actually think Al Franken is going to steal votes, I just -- I ask the question.
SCARBOROUGH: I mean, how hard is it to steal 188 votes? I mean --

I don't actually think Joe Scarborough is a douche bag, I just ask the question; why is Joe Scarborough such a douche bag?

BRZEZINSKI: It's a question. Can I --
SCARBOROUGH: Kennedy stole Illinois in 1960; Nixon stole Kentucky. They stole entire states. We're talking 188 votes.

Like Florida?

BUCHANAN: I think they stole Texas in 1960. LBJ -- remember he won the famous election down there in '48?

You mean like Florida?

BARNICLE: Yes, I do.

Okay than.

BUCHANAN: Beat Coke Stevenson by what --
BRZEZINSKI: I could --
BUCHANAN: -- 47 votes, or something?
BARNICLE: Forty seven -- "Landslide Lyndon."
BRZEZINSKI: You have a certain glee to you.
BUCHANAN: "Landslide Lyndon."
SCARBOROUGH: LBJ just -- that was just pure larceny.
BRZEZINSKI: I like the glee --
SCARBOROUGH: That was pure larceny.
BRZEZINSKI: -- in your voice.

That would be the first time someone has liked the glee in Pat Buchanan's voice.

BARNICLE: I think, if you send Pat and I to Minnesota, within two days after we were there, we would come up with 90 dead Swedes and we'd -- this thing would be tied.

Send us to Minnesota to kill some Swedes! In two days we can kill 90! Donate now!

BUCHANAN: Dead-even, right. How many --
BRZEZINSKI: You're a mixture of Santa Claus and the Grinch.
BUCHANAN: What you ask is: How many do we need? -- is what you ask.
GEIST: Yeah.
GEIST: We'll find them. Give me a number.
SCARBOROUGH: That's right.
BUCHANAN: Make sure you give me the right number.
BRZEZINSKI: Speaking of numbers --
SCARBOROUGH: Well, that's the thing. You've got to give me the right number before the election starts, and I can take care of it.

Joe makes a good point, you're much better off to kill your opponents supporters before the election, rather than waiting for the small chance it will end up in a recount. That's why Joe makes the big bucks.

GEIST: Speaking of numbers --
BRZEZINSKI: Speaking of numbers --
SCARBOROUGH: If you don't, then you have a Florida 2000 fiasco.

That's my Joe!

How ‘bout a nooner?

The counting of challenged ballots finally got underway yesterday, but the canvassing board only managed to get through 152 of the Franken campaigns challenges, with well over a thousand left to go and maybe more. The counting will resume again at 9 am and the board should finish with the Franken pile today.

At the end of the day yesterday the breakdown of the Franken campaigns challenges was 95 for Coleman (62.5%), 19 for Franken (12.5%) and 38 for other (25%). If these percentages hold Coleman would net 221 votes from the Franken challenges. Applying these percentages to the Coleman challenges is a little trickier, because there is no firm number of Coleman challenges right now.

At this point the Coleman campaign has nothing to gain by reducing its challenges, they are simply playing for time. So, they don't know how many ballots they've challenged, they are possibly adding challenges back and possibly withdrawing more. Using the number of 1000 Coleman challenges as a default and the same vote spit that Coleman is getting in Franken's challenges, Franken would net 500 votes. The difference in those two totals, 279, would give Al Franken a 91 vote margin.

In other recount news the MN Supreme court will hear arguments about whether counties need direction in how to sort improperly rejected absentee ballots (IRAB's) today at 1 pm and the Franken campaign filed suit in Olmsted county over their decision to not count a handful of absentee ballots that supposedly weren't rejected. Some counties are still sorting their rejected absentee ballots and some are schedualed to, while others are waiting for the Supreme Court ruling. At the moment, with 48 of 87 counties reporting, I still project the number of IRAB's to be around 1,150 using the Star Tribunes numbers, which doesn't match up with the almost 1,600 projection coming from the Secretary of State.

The Uptake will be live streaming for those who think five guys discussing penmanship is fun.

Monday, December 15, 2008

AP analyses challenged ballots finds Franken advantage

An AP review of more than 5,000 challenged ballots reveals that Al Franken stands to gain ground, enough to possibly put him over the top. Some of the findings;

"Among challenged ballots that easily could be assigned, Franken netted 200 more votes than Coleman."

"More than 400 possible Franken votes were being held up on grounds that those voters identified their ballots through write-ins, initials, phone numbers or some other distinctive marking. At least 300 possible Coleman votes were in limbo for the same reasons. "

 "Franken could also get a boost because a few more of his potential supporters than Coleman's were among the nearly 600 ballots that had two filled-in ovals as well as crossed-out votes, an X above or below their darkened oval, or different-size partial marks in more than one oval."

The first pile alone is enough for Franken to pull ahead. The signature/identifying mark pile also favors Franken, but some of these ballots have the potential of not being counted. For clarification the AP article includes this:

"Ritchie said a ruling in the state's 1962 gubernatorial race recount found that the mark had to have been made with the voter's intent to identify the ballot."

This would seem to cut down on the amount of ballots rejected for having a signature or other identifying mark. As an example, I've seen ballots where a change was made in the vote and the change was initialed by the voter, as they would do on a check. According to Ritchie, these ballots would be counted.

A Daily Kos diarist also spent the weekend going through challenged ballots and has posted his findings which seem to support the AP's analysis.

The challenged ballot counting begins on Tuesday and is expected to go till Friday at which point we should have a much better idea about the pre-trial phase outcome of this race.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pile 2 + Pile 5 = Lots of room for improvement

Overlooked in the hoopla about improperly rejected absentee ballots, is the large number of properly rejected absentee ballots that appear to have been rejected for nothing more than what I would consider bureaucratic reasons. Using the results from precincts that have completed their sorting we see that almost 75% of the rejected absentee ballots, the combination of pile's 2 and 5, were rejected for bureaucratic or clerical reasons.

Here is a visual description of Minnesota's absentee ballot process for those not familiar with it and a look at the different reasons for an absentee ballot to be rejected.

Pile 1 - The voters name or address on the return envelope is different than the name or address on the absentee application. At the current rate these would equal a total of 795 votes.

Pile 2 - The voter's signature on return envelope and application do not match/or certificate not complete, usually meaning no signature. At the current rate these would equal a total of 5,881 votes.

Pile 3 - The voter is not registered and there is no registration card included in the return application. At the current rate these would equal a total of 1,379 votes.

Pile 3a - The voter is not registered, although there appears to be a registration card in the secrecy envelope. At the current rate these would equal a total of 41 votes.

Pile 4 - The voter already voted. At the current rate these would equal a total of 267 votes.

Pile 5 - Mistakenly rejected. At the current rate these would equal a total of 1150 votes.

There is some slop in these numbers right now. At current projections there will be a total of 9,314 absentee ballots that were rejected. The Secretary of State estimates that there are a total of 12,000 rejected ballots. So, if anything, these projections are conservative and underestimate the final numbers by as much as 30%.

When you look at those piles though what sticks out?

Pile 2 represents 63% of the rejected absentee ballots, clearly the dominate group. There is no distinction in the data between the two conditions that comprise pile 2, the signature not matching and the certificate not being filled out completely, but they are totally different errors that require the election official to make completely different types of judgments. Rejecting a ballot because the certificate is not complete is a bureaucratic decision, rejecting a ballot because the signatures do not match is an entirely subjective decision. It would be interesting to know what the split is between these two types of rejected ballots.

The problem of a certificate not being filled out points to less than effective ballot instructions. Most of these instances were people not signing the return envelope at all, which may be due to confusion about instructions not to leave any identifying marks on the ballots themselves. It shouldn't be too difficult to design better absentee ballot packaging to help reduce this number in the future. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie acknowledged this point on Almanac saying that absentee ballots need to be less complicated for voters and poll workers.

The other reason for ballots ending up in pile 2, a signature not matching, is a completely subjective judgment and one bound to be susceptible to human error and bias. It is impossible to apply consistent statewide standards to this matter; every person who compares two signatures is likely to have a slightly different opinion on their similarity. This is the number I am interested in finding out, how many of these rejected absentee ballots were rejected because the signatures didn't match.

If anything there needs to be clarification in the process for rejecting a ballot because of the signatures not matching, just so that at least some of the variables from county to county can be controlled. What I'm talking about, for example, would be a requirement that at least two election officials agree that the signatures do not match and then the ballot is forwarded to the State Canvassing board for a decision. It seems that any part of the process that is in any way subjective should involve as many different opinions as possible so that the correct decision can be arrived at.

It's good that pile 5 will apparently be counted, no one should have their properly cast vote not count because of a clerical error, that said there is little excuse for any ballots ending up in the fifth pile. In St. Louis County, for example, 127 absentee ballots were wrongly rejected because the signature line lacked a date. It wasn't till they started sorting their rejected absentee ballots that St. Louis County election officials bothered to find out what the state law actually says. It turns out that there is no requirement that the signature be dated. This is the sort of thing that shouldn't happen and is the direct result of a lack of training. Luckily this is an easy problem to solve.

On his Almanac appearance Ritchie blamed the problems we've seen with the absentee ballot system primarily on the vast increase in people voting by absentee ballot this year. What this would indicate to me is the need for Minnesota to follow the lead of states like North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado and Georgia in offering early voting, which would ease strains on the absentee ballot system and help to decrease the long lines on election day.

It's too bad that so many votes will not be counted though. If changes are made to make the system better as a result, that will be a positive outcome, otherwise almost 6,000 ballots will be cast aside in one of the closest elections in Minnesota history for what would seem to be rather dubious reasons.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Recount Update.

Al Franken got some good news today when the State Canvassing board unanimously decided to include improperly rejected absentee ballots, by some estimates expected to be as high as 1,600, in the final recount total. Also decided were two Hennepin county ballot quandaries. The election night results will stand in place of the missing ballots in ward 3, precinct 1, and the 12 uncounted absentee ballots will be counted as part of the fifth pile count.

The decision regarding the IRAB's, which has been at the center of the Franken campaigns recount efforts, is big news. It's still unknown how counties who have previously refused to sort their rejected absentee ballots, like Ramsey, will respond. The State Canvassing board did not require county election officials to sort the rejected absentee ballots, only asked them to. The new wrinkle added was that the Canvassing board also instructed counties to open the IRAB's, count them, and include them in the election totals. The Canvassing board will than make the decision to include them in the final tally or not.

With these ruling's it's exceedingly unlikely that this won't end up in court. Even the Canvassing board seemed resigned to the fact that no matter what action is taken, on either issue, court proceedings will follow.

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson had this to say about including the election night results from ward 3, precinct 1:

"Some court, some judge, somewhere, may reach a different conclusion. That's how the process works."

Shortly after the Canvassing board meeting the Coleman campaign announced they would ask the State Supreme court to require counties follow consistent standards when counting the IRAB's, the first in what is sure to be a long series of court challenges as the Coleman campaign now switches to a defensive position. Without the inclusion of the IRAB's it was going to come down to the wire and all rest on the Canvassing board's interpretation of the challenged ballots. Now it looks as though Al Franken may be the clear favorite to win the recount.

The actual vote totals of the IRAB's remains unknown, but according to pre-election polling, Franken was running at about an 8% advantage in early/absentee voting. The total number of IRAB's also remains unknown, the Star Tribune is currently reporting the total at 692, but estimates range from 1,000 to 1,600. In analysis posted yesterday I projected the final IRAB total at 970. Adding today's updated numbers into the mix that projection now stands at 1,038.

But wait, there's this. In Duluth about 40% of the city's 319 rejected absentee ballots, or about 127, were rejected improperly. This is far above the 10% IRAB rate seen statewide, apparently the reason was election officials misunderstanding of what constitutes a properly signed ballot, dated or not. St Louis County has yet to report but this would add about 95 extra votes to the projection, taking it to 1,133. If Al Franken wins the IRAB's by 8%, that is a 90 vote margin, at 5% Franken would net 56 votes. Either outcome would likely be decisive.

In light of this good news word is that the Franken camp will be withdrawing 750 more challenged ballots. This is a no brainer as the Canvassing board clearly seemed upset about the volume of challenges it was facing.  Secretary of State Mark Ritchie made his feelings clear.

"I'm not happy about this."

The ballot challenges were part of gamesmanship that was going on during the recount and now that things are moving in Franken's favor he has no need to play that game anymore.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the Franken campaign withdraw even more challenges.  On the other hand there is no incentive for the Coleman campaign to withdraw anymore challenges because they will want to stall as much as possible, hoping for vindication in the courts.

Previously I predicted that the Canvassing board would punt on the IRAB's and let the courts deal with the issue in an effort to avoid possible litigation. Instead the Canvassing board, it appears, has the goal of counting all the votes and not doing whatever it can to avoid eventual litigation. For that I applaud them. In the final analysis Minnesota voters who properly cast a ballot should not be denied that vote for bureaucratic or clerical reasons. 

Next up, adjudicating the challenged ballots.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What's ahead for the recount?

Things will start to get interesting again in the Senate recount on Friday. That's when the Canvassing Board will meet to decide on the fate of rejected absentee ballots as well as figure out what to do about the 133 missing ballots in ward 3, precinct 1. Also up in the air, the 12 uncounted absentee ballots from Hennepin county found during the search for those 133 missing ballots. Hey, we're not Florida, we just visit in winter.

What to do with the pile of improperly rejected absentee ballots will prove the most consequential decision. It seems likely, as there is precedent for it, that the election night machine results will be used in place of the 133 missing ballots in Hennepin County. As for the 12 uncounted absentee ballots, if they're counted the most votes either candidate could realistically hope to net from those would be 3 or 4. If the candidates garner the same support as they did in Hennepin County as a whole (using election night results) Franken would gain 6 votes, Coleman 4.3 and Barkley 1.5, for a net Franken gain of 1.7 votes.  

As you'll recall Secretary of State Ritchie asked all of the election officials to sort through rejected absentee ballots and divide them into five piles, with the so called fifth pile representing absentee ballots that were mistakenly rejected. Right now the Star Tribune is reporting that election officials have found 244 improperly rejected absentee ballots, with only 14 of the 87 counties done sorting. However some counties aren't sorting at all. 

Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky had this to say about why his county had decided against sorting absentee ballots:

"(Our) advice is, we probably need some direction from a court."

Only 56 counties are listed on the sorting schedule on the Secretary of State's website. Five, it appears, have decided not to sort their rejected absentee ballots at all, being listed as "will not participate." That leaves 16 counties that may or may not sort their ballots. With all that said the majority of counties are sorting their rejected absentee ballots and 14 counties have completed this process representing 15% of the pre-recount vote total. From this information we can extrapolate how many ballots will be in the final total under a few different scenarios.

First we need to figure out the rate of improperly rejected absentee ballots, or IRAB's. To do this I will only use data from counties that have completed sorting their rejected absentee ballots, as those counties in the process of sorting don't provide data about how many ballots they've sorted through, only how many IRAB's they've found. In the counties that have completed their sorting 150 IRAB's have been found, out of 45,241 total absentee ballots, for an IRAB rate of .0033.

Scenario 1 is that all improperly rejected absentee ballots are counted in all counties. There were a total of 292,535 absentee ballots counted in the original count, apply our IRAB rate and we get an additional 970 ballots being included in the total under this scenario, which is close to the Franken campaigns estimates that there were 1,000 such ballots. Scenario 1, however, looks to be the least likely scenario barring court action, though under those circumstances it might be the most likely outcome.

Scenario 2 occurs if we accept that only the counties listed on the sorting schedule provided by the Secretary of State will actually sort their ballots, and that those sorted ballots will be counted. Under this scenario 676 rejected absentee ballots will get added to the ballot totals. 

Scenario 3 is that the Canvassing board decides not to count the IRAB's at all. This is the most likely scenario, mainly because the other two scenarios are unlikely. Since not all the counties have sorted their rejected absentee ballots scenario 1 is physically impossible and I don't think the ad-hoc approach of scenario 2 will fly with members of the Canvassing board. For those reasons they'll probably decide that it's better to leave it to the courts to sort this matter out.

In an analysis of this issue a few weeks ago Nate Sliver predicted that if there were 1,000 IRAB's, Al Franken would gain 25-100 votes. The current IRAB rate suggests that will be the case, meaning this will only grow larger as an issue no matter what happens. If the Canvassing Board decides to count these ballots expect the Coleman campaign to go apeshit.

So my predictions are; the election night totals get used in ward 3, precinct 1, the 12 uncounted absentee ballots will be counted and what to do about the IRAB's will be left up to the courts. If all of that is correct then we're back to waiting for the challenged ballots to be adjudicated to learn who the winner is of the pre-trial phase.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Welcome to minn-Donkey

Welcome to minn-Donkey. I'm your host TonyAngelo and what you'll find here are my thoughts on Minnesota political and non-political happenings, but mostly the political ones.

I want to focus my time on long form examinations of upcoming issues. The first of those being the redistricting piece below. Enjoy.

"Please don't take my mother out of my district."

With the 2008 election behind us, campaign finance reform in ashes and the 2010 census looming, redistricting reform has emerged as the next good government battleground. The increased attention to a normally boring and usually litigated issue is in large part due to the partisan gerrymandering in Texas that followed the 2000 census. What's mostly forgotten is that a similar attempt was made in Colorado but failed in the courts. 

In the aftermath of Texas and Colorado a national consensus of sorts to reform the way redistricting is done has emerged. There have been multiple efforts in numerous states towards some sort of reform and many different ideas from all over the political spectrum about what kind of form it should take. 

The calls for change are only likely to increase as we near 2010, so now is as good a time as any to take a look at the issues in play and what reform might look like.

A little history

In 2001 the Texas and Colorado legislature were under split control and when redistricting came up, as often happens, gridlock ensued. In Colorado the task of redistricting was handled by a panel of federal judges, in Texas the matter was handed over to the Legislative Redistricting Board. In 2002 Republicans gained control of both houses of the state legislature in Colorado and Texas. Upon gaining power Republicans in both states promptly put a stop to the 200 year old practice of only redistricting every ten years.

The Texas story, I'm sure, is familiar to everyone but I'll recap it anyway, for the sake of completeness. In 2003 Governor Rick Perry and the Republican legislature, backed by Tom Delay, tried to make redistricting the centerpiece of that year's legislative session. When that didn't work the Governor called a special session and the Democrats fled to Oklahoma and New Mexico. Eventually the Democrats came back, the plan got passed and the Republican caucus got fatter. The issue ended up in the US Supreme Court, who ruled that district 23 was in violation of the Voting Rights Act, but the rest of the redistricting plan was allowed to stand.

Colorado seems a bit more instructive of how these things tend to play out, with Texas as the exception. The Colorado state legislature passed a gerrymandered redistricting plan that was promptly dismissed by the Colorado Supreme Court, citing the fact that the state constitution only allowed for decennial redistricting. The case was appealed to the US Supreme Court who decided they didn't even want to hear it. Not to be stopped so easily Colorado Republicans sued again, and again took the case all the way to the US Supreme Court. This time the court took the case and sided unanimously against the plaintiffs. As a result Colorado has a sensible looking map and some actually competitive districts

The courts haven't always decided redistricting matters though; it wasn't until the 1962 US Supreme Court case Baker v. Carr that the courts authority over these matters was established. Charles Baker, a resident of Tennessee, sued his state's election official Joe Carr on the grounds that his vote was being diluted due to the state's failure to reapportion, in violation of the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment. It had been 60 years since Tennessee had reapportioned its districts. Shortly after, in 1964, the US Supreme Court ruled that redistricting plans not based on equal population distribution would be rejected.

In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed and almost immediately arguments over its meaning ensued. Does it require districts to be drawn so that racial minorities are given a voice in congress? That seems to be the common interpretation, but until recently the court decisions had been few and contradictory. The most recent decision on this matter, and perhaps the most definitive, came as a result of the Texas redistricting case. The US Supreme Court ruled that district 23 was a violation of the Voting Rights Act because it diluted the power of the states large Hispanic population.


The push for reform

Almost since the moment people realized what was happening in Texas there have been calls for redistricting reform. From the DLC, to the League of Women Voters to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the calls have come from across the partisan and non-partisan spectrum. 

Here is what the Governator had to say about it, and frankly I don't know if it could be said better:

"And one last item. And I don't want to be a pest about this. I again this year raise the issue of political reform. California politics is a centrifuge that forces voters and policies and parties away from the center. The centrifuge is powered by the way our legislative and congressional districts are drawn. Now we all know what they're talking about here. They are drawn to eliminate party competition. They work against the mainstream, which is where most Californians are. Currently, ours is not a system of the people, by the people and for the people. It is a system of the parties, by the parties and for the parties. In the past three election cycles, only 4 out of California's 459 congressional and legislative seats changed hands. There was more turnover in the Hapsburg monarchy than in the California legislature. I ask you to work with me to create an independent commission to fix a political system that has become petrified by self-interest. California certainly is not alone in this. No state legislature in U.S. history has put a redistricting reform on the ballot. California though can be the first, we can be the leader. You will not benefit politically from this. I will not benefit politically from this. But the people will benefit from this. I ask you to work with me to do the right thing for the people."

In fact Gov. Schwarzenegger supported a redistricting ballot initiative in 2005 that was ultimately rejected by the voters for a number of reasons, not least of which was the appearance of a partisan power grab. Ohio voters were faced with a similar ballot initiative that year that was rejected for strikingly similar reasons. Three common threads emerged in both states campaigns; the current system was ripe for corruption, competition is lacking and that communities need to be preserved.

Exit polling showed that two of these arguments didn't wash with voters; they didn't see redistricting as a corrupt practice and had little interest in competition because they saw that as being responsible for more negative campaigns and advertising. In other words, people would rather the election be a foregone conclusion than polluting the airwaves for months.

On November 4th of this year California voters passed prop 11 51-49, although it has been somewhat obscured by all the vitriol surrounding the passage of prop 8. Prop 11 calls for the formation of a 14 member redistricting commission, randomly selected from an applicant pool, with the final makeup consisting of five members from each of the state's two largest political parties and four members unaffiliated with either party. Approval of maps requires nine votes. Some standards prop 11 establishes are; geographical compactness and the preservation of neighborhood integrity.

Some local views

Recently the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute Center for the Study of Politics and Governance hosted a conference on redistricting. Among the speakers was Democratic Senate majority leader Larry Pogemiller who has introduced a redistricting reform bill of his own and was the DFL point man on redistricting in 1991 and 2001. In his speech Majority leader Pogemiller covered what he thought were four myths about redistricting and what factors need to be considered in any reform efforts.

The four myths he cited were; that you can take politics out of redistricting, that legislators are only concerned with their self interest, smart political calculations can overcome the will of the voters and that you can do what Texas did. The first two myths he boiled down to one statement; politics plays a part, but is not the motivating factor, stability is.

I hate to digress from the issue of redistricting to critique a speech, but I can't help myself. It seems obvious to me that stability is in the self interest of legislators, they got elected with the system that's in place. The Majority leader claims that self interest doesn't play a part while also claiming that stability is the driving factor. If stability is the driving factor than self interest is playing a part. Also, myth three and four are exactly the same thing. Texas used smart political calculations to try and overcome the will of the voters. Alright, back to redistricting.

Majority leader Pogemiller than laid out what he saw as the keys to reform; that the process be inclusive, open, transparent, accountable and that it be based on principles that will withstand court action. Those principles are; substantially equal population, that districts be convenient, contiguous and compact and that voting strength of racial minorities be preserved. Some other redistricting principles he brought up were; not dividing cities, counties and towns, that communities of interest be preserved, promoting political competitiveness and not doing things with the purpose of protecting or defeating an incumbent.

Also speaking at the conference was State Representative Laura Brod and she really likes the way Iowa does redistricting . In Iowa the redistricting plan begins with the Legislative Service Bureau, who draws the preliminary map, and then goes to the state legislature for approval. The emphasis of the map drawing process is on population equality, contiguousness, compactness and keeping cities unified and allows for input from the public. Some specific things that the Iowa process forbids using in making the map are political affiliation, previous election results and the addresses of incumbents.

Representative Brod also mentioned a game that was developed by USC and the Annenberg Center called The Redistricting Game. I must warn you though, the game is addictive, so play at your own risk.


The Scientific approach

Another way that redistricting can now be done, due to the wonders of technology, is by mathematical formula. One such formula, the shortest-splitline algorithm, only cares about equal population distribution. Essentially it's a process of equally dividing the population into half with the shortest-splitline until the desired number of legislative districts is achieved. As an example Minnesota would look like this.

The upside to the shortest-splitline algorithm is that there is only one way to do it and that is the way the algorithm draws the lines, it is only driven by the desire to balance population between districts. The downside is that the algorithm ignores all geographical features, county boundaries, city boundaries and does not take into account minority populations.


What to do

There are many competing interests at play here, practical, political, logistical, minority, geographical and each issue has a different level of priority in every state. It's because of all these conflicting interests, not to mention all the bigger problems we face as a country, that make any sort of national reform unlikely, so reform will have to come at the state level.

With Minnesota likely to lose a house seat after the 2010 census there will have to be a significant change to our congressional map and someone's district will be eliminated. It's for this reason that the push for reform is coming now.

This leads to the question, does Minnesota need redistricting reform? Our legislative map certainly doesn't look like some of the gerrymandered nightmares out there. It could be argued that political competitiveness is lacking in many of our districts, but the desire for political competitiveness is in conflict with the desire by some to not use prior voting information in the drawing of districts. Even if you conclude that we do need reform, what should that reform look like?

From a practical perspective the shortest-splitline algorithm is too radical a departure from our current system for almost any politician to support and I'm not so sure it's even a good idea. I do think there is something to be said for creating minority dominated districts in an attempt to give that minority more of a voice at the national level. I do think that from a purely logistical perspective county and city unity should be a factor for consideration. The Iowa model seems like a good compromise between the practical and the political, but it's not without problems. 

Toward the end of his comments Majority leader Pogemiller related a story about the 2001 redistricting in which a member pleaded with him "Please don't take my mother out of my district." It sounds ridiculous, but these are the kinds of interests at play in this debate and I tend to agree that more than anything else incumbents want stability and this will make them afraid of reform. It's because of this that any push for reform needs to be well conceived and must not appear to be a partisan power grab, voters will reject it otherwise.