Sunday, January 25, 2009

Yet another example of the Coleman-Strib alliance

The headline reads "Norm Coleman reaches out to Franken on absentee ballots." The reality is that Coleman's legal team sent a letter to Al Franken, and the press, that asks him not to fight their attempt to have all of the rejected absentee ballots re-re-inspected. Which is, of course, in direct opposition to the position they took prior to the election contest being filed.

This headline would have been appropriate if, back in November, Coleman had decided to go along with counting wrongly rejected absentee ballots. But the Coleman team didn't do that did they? No, they refused to even consider the possibility of counting such ballots. It's understandable why the Coleman position has changed so dramatically, they don't have a choice. They need to find votes somewhere.

But for the Star Tribune to cast this effort as reaching out is nothing more than misinformation.

On January 21st they ran an article under the headline "Franken ratchets up legal fight." The article was about that day's hearing over Franken's motion to dismiss. The filing of a motion to dismiss is a default procedural move and is certainly not a case of "ratcheting" anything up. Coleman filing the election contest in the first place was a "ratcheting" up, a motion to dismiss is like checking on the big blind with 7, deuce off. The vast majority of the time nothing will come of it, but it doesn't cost you anything and hey, every once in awhile you can flop a boat. If the poker reference didn't make sense the point is that a motion to dismiss is trivial. It's a standard move.

This is all part of a larger PR push by the Coleman campaign and sympathetic media outlets like the Strib and the Murdoch owned Wall Street Journal and Fox News. Since the reality of a recount became clear the day after the election they've been building this story up, slowly at first, then as things started to go Franken's way the shrillness and lies came faster and from more directions.

With Norm Coleman seemingly resigned to his fate, having taken a job with a lobbying firm of all things, the question becomes how far does this get pushed? Will they appeal it all the way to the US Supreme Court, assuming it doesn't go their way? The more that Norm Coleman becomes detached from the process, the more it seems like the motivation for the effort is not his but that of the GOP leadership.

They are more relevant while the Democrats are short that one vote which will be critical for the issue they plan on making the biggest stand against, the Employee Free Choice Act. They fear Franken getting seated because there is at least one moderate Republican, Arlen Specter, who seems likely to support the bill. Specter plus Franken plus all the other Dems equals sixty votes for cloture. Another theory is that they are trying to build Franken up as a lightning rod for GOP electoral angst. Either way it now seems unlikely they will give up until they've exhausted all of their legal options.

The trial phase of the election contest begins tomorrow as the never ending Senate race enters yet another stage.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Would a run-off be a better way?

Reforming our election system is already getting attention from the legislature and one of the ideas being pushed by members of both parties is a run-off in cases of a close result. From one of the supporters herself, Sen. Ann Rest of New Hope:

"It would be $3 or $4 million instead of $250,000, which is the cost of the current recount. But I think voters would believe that is a worthwhile expenditure to have a clear result in an extraordinary circumstance."

In other words because the recount had a few glitches we should spend anywhere from 12 to 16 times the amount of money. And what happens if the runoff is really close? Do you have a recount of the runoff?

The other question to ask is would Minnesotans even want to go back to vote again for a single race? In Georgia this year there was a huge drop-off between turnout on Election Day and turnout in the Senate runoff. This means the people who ultimately decide the race will be a different group from the people who decided all the other races.

Another runoff supporter Laura Brod had this to say:

"The voters are the ones that are looking at it, saying it's a confusing process, I don't understand why these votes were counted and these votes were not. I don't understand how a recount total can be used in one place and not in another. I think a runoff vote -- not an instant runoff vote, but a runoff vote -- would create clarity. I think it would lessen confusion in the system, and I think it's something we should very closely look at."

I don't see how a runoff creates any clarity; there is the very real possibility that the person who wins the runoff is not the person who won on election night. I don't think that's clarity and I'm not so sure that clarity is something we should aspire to. Transparency, yes. The issues she brings up are clear though, not confusing. The issue of the missing ballots in Minneapolis is unfortunate, but to then say that those votes shouldn't count is ridiculous. This is a human system so mistakes will happen and ballots will be lost and it's not the voters who should be punished because of it. Just because some people are allowing themselves to be confused doesn't mean the process is confusing.

A runoff election is a solution to something that isn't a problem, a close election. A close election will expose problems in any voting system, but that doesn't mean that the closeness of the election is the problem, the problems are the problem. The number of rejected absentee ballots are a problem. The lost ballots are a problem. The ballots that were found while looking for the lost ballots are a problem. There were certainly problems with the election and the recount, but they are all problems that can for the most part be addressed with tweaks and changes to Minnesota's existing election law.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Rejected absentee ballots are being counted

You can watch the action live on The Uptake. Meanwhile Nate Silver is up with an analysis of the 953 rejected absentee ballots that will be counted; he's predicting that Franken will net 31 votes, extending his lead to 80. He throws cold water on the idea that Coleman has excluded many more ballots than Franken from the counting.

The apparent edge for Franken comes as each campaign has had essentially a unilateral veto to prevent any particular absentee ballot from being opened and counted. Initially, based on a review of the process in Democratic stronghold St. Louis county, it appeared that the Coleman campaign was being far more aggressive than the Franken campaign in exercising its veto. Information gathered by additional counties by the Star Tribune, however, suggests that this may not be the case, and that the Franken campaign has been at least as aggressive as Coleman in exercising its veto.

Also the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Coleman campaigns request to put a halt to the whole thing in order for them to change the rules to their liking. Lots of action going on today.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Vikings Stadium? Ha!

In a display of what can only be described as monumental balls and extreme tone deafness, the Vikings are asking for a new stadium. No really, I'm serious. The idea is for a new, almost billion dollar stadium, with more than 60% of the funding being provided by tax payers. Lester Bagley, vice president in charge of taxpayer fleecing stadium development tried his best to sell the project:

"Why not, the Vikings are a public asset. This is going to create an economic boost."

Why not? Why not? Seriously dude, why not?

Larry Pogemiller:

"It certainly will not be a high priority. We have a fiscal and job crisis in Minnesota."

Margaret Anderson Kelliher:

"There is no chance. It's a great idea if they would pay for it themselves. But we are in uncharted economic waters. We are in a crisis situation, and we have to focus on the financial and economic health of the state."

Governor Pawlenty also seemed to laugh off the idea. The very thought that this would happen this year is ridiculous and why the Vikings would even bother to bring it up I don't know, but it gave me a good laugh.

2006 to 2008, Part 2: the Senate race

Even though the winner is still up in the air, I think we have enough information to begin breaking down what happened and why.

When looking to make comparisons I think it is more appropriate to compare this year's Senate race to the 2006 Governor's race than to the 2006 Senate race. The dynamics between the 2008 Senate and 2006 Governors race are similar while the dynamics of the two Senate races are quite different. First of all the 2006 Senate race was for an open seat previously held by the DFL and the race featured a successful, dynamic and generally well liked woman against a generic GOP white male. In both the 2006 Governor's race and the 2008 Senate race we had a GOP incumbent running against a white male DLFer.

Let's take a quick look at the numbers from the two elections


Pawlenty(R-inc) 47%

Hatch(D) 46%

Hutchinson(I) 6%


Coleman(R-inc) 41%

Franken(D) 41%

Barkley(I) 15%

Obviously the biggest difference in the numbers is the amount of support received by the IP candidate. The few polls that tried to measure who Barkley was drawing votes from seemed to indicate that he was drawing about equally from both candidates, maybe slightly more from Coleman than Franken but look at this pollster graph:

Almost from the moment the election started Franken was losing support. Coleman, on the other hand, was doing okay until two things happened that began to bring his numbers down, Dean Barkley entered the race and the economy went south. In fact Barkley's peak conforms almost exactly to Coleman's low point. You can see that some of these people went back to Coleman before the election, as the ramifications of the bailout began to sink in and anger subsided a little, but the damage was done.

How many of these Barkley voters could have been persuaded to the DFL? Probably not many, too many people were turned off by both Coleman and Franken. A poll conducted by SurveyUSA on December 4th showed that if the election were held again people would pretty much vote the same way, meaning even though Barkley voters knew how close the race was and how much their vote really mattered they would still cast it for Barkley. The Senate race was a really nasty campaign so it's no surprise that many people still feel unable to vote for either major party candidate.

Another of the similarities between 2006 and 2008 to consider is that the DFL was somewhat divided on who to nominate. In both cases some progressives were disappointed in the DFLs choice and this disappointment carried through the entire election. I went door-knocking with more than a few people who were still not sold on Franken, even though they were passing out his literature. I heard similar sentiments in 2006 about Hatch. I felt the same way about John Kerry in 2004. It's difficult to overcome your chosen candidate's loss when you suffer from rabid True Believerism.

How do you bring a party back together after a closely contested primary? That was the question on everyone's mind even before we knew who got the Democratic Presidential nomination but in the end it didn't matter, that race was a blowout. The emergence of groups like PUMA goes to show that some portion of the activists will have a hard time getting behind the nominee, even when it's a once in a generation caliber candidate. There are a lot of activists that lie somewhere in the middle though and these people need to be given a reason to support a candidate, not just party unity, and that reason needs to come from the candidate.

How much of an effect this had in the end is hard to know, but in a race this close, that everyone knew would be close, any little thing can be huge. During a Presidential cycle when enthusiasm on our side was sky high, Franken wasn't able to generate any more enthusiasm than Coleman. In the closing days of the campaign the best reason the Franken campaign could give people to vote for their candidate was that he could provide Barack Obama with the Senate majority he will need to pass key legislation. How this became the campaigns closing argument I'll never understand, but it seems to me that a closing argument should explain why a candidate could best serve the people voting for them. The best the Franken campaign could come up with for this was that he'll vote with Obama.

I don't think it can be overstated how weak this argument is on its own, much less as a closing argument. During a campaign when Al Franken criticized Norm Coleman incessantly for voting lockstep with President Bush, the reason he gave people to vote for him was that he would vote in lockstep with President Obama. Among the many messaging mistakes of the Franken campaign this was the largest.

The thing is this; both Norm Coleman and Tim Pawlenty are smart politicians. They both ran with the advantages of incumbency and are very popular within the GOP base. That said the DFL had a shot in both races and a good one, even with a somewhat fractured base. You put a candidate like Amy Klobuchar in an open seat race with the party united behind her and it's no contest. The DFL has a structural advantage in the state and if the 2008 Senate race and 2006 Governors race can teach us anything, it's that we need to make an even bigger effort to consolidate our base in the future.

If there is one thing the Obama campaign can teach us at the state level it's that we should not be afraid of all the ways that the opposition can attack a candidate or that candidates perceived inability to win. We should instead focus on who we want to represent us and who can bring the party together behind them rather than trying to drag the party along with them. A really well run campaign helps too.