The election, part 4: The Canvassing Board reviews the ballotsby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The Canvassing Board was comprised of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, two district court judges and two Minnesota Supreme Court justices. The judges on the board were well-respected, and politically diverse.
The two members of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Eric Magnuson and Justice G. Barry Anderson, had been appointed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Ramsey County Judge Edward Cleary was appointed by Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura. Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin won election to the bench. And Board Chair Mark Ritchie is a Democrat.
Board members went though each challenged ballot and decided whether it should be counted as a Coleman vote, a Franken vote, or should be thrown out.
TEDIOUS, BUT SERIOUS WORK
Working in a basement hearing room of the State Office Building across the street from the Capitol, the board began its job in mid-December -- a month and a half after the race was supposed to have ended.
The Canvassing Board's work was serious. The recount results hinged on the fate of challenged ballots. The judges, with the assistance of Secretary of State Ritchie and his staff, carefully examined each and every ballot brought before them.
Reporters and photographers documented every move of the tedious process.
In most cases, board members quickly arrived at unanimous ballot decisions. On day one, Judge Kathleen Gearin scolded the campaigns for bringing forward unnecessary ballot objections.
"There are some areas that it's just not even questionable, that we're spending time looking at where there is just the tiniest, itty, bitty little dot in one box and the other box is totally filled in," Gearin said. "I'm disappointed. I don't think the campaigns have, in fact, gone through these as seriously as they should have."
The campaigns got the message and continued to pare down their piles of contested ballots.
During the recount, and more so as the Canvassing Board inspected the challenged ballots, Minnesotans got a first-hand look at some of the bizarre ways some voters filled out their ballots.
LIZARD PEOPLE AND SPAGHETTI MONSTERS
The oddities ran the gamut, from artwork and scribbling to write-in votes for Mickey Mouse, quarterback Brett Favre and many others.
Some voters crossed out ovals on their ballots instead of filling them in. Others filled them in, only to cross them out and, in some cases, initial them. Others wrote specific directives about what they wanted government to do.
And there was the voter who wrote in "lizard people." The ballot got national attention, but it did not end up in the count.
"If somebody's going to vote, and they want to make a statement of some sort," Gearin said, they may not get their vote counted. "This is an example of that. And I'm fairly certain they didn't mean it, but the rules are the rules."
Another ballot that garnered a good deal of laughs was marked throughout with "flying spaghetti monster," or FSM for short. Despite all of the spaghetti monster markings, the voter correctly filled in the oval for Franken on the Senate question and the ballot landed in Franken's pile.
After a slow start, the Canvassing Board speeded up its ballot review work. And as the ballots were scrutinized, Coleman's lead continued to shrink.
The Canvassing Board completed ruling on the challenged ballots in just a few days, largely because the campaigns ended up withdrawing so many disputed ballots.
The two campaigns withdrew the vast majority of their challenges. Canvassing Board members ended up deliberating over fewer than 1,000 of the more than 6,600 ballots that were originally contested.
With the recount of cast ballots complete, the numbers turned to Franken's favor, giving the Democratic challenger a 49-vote lead over Republican Norm Coleman.
RECOUNT ENDS; FRANKEN LEADS BY 225
On Saturday, Jan. 3, the day Coleman's Senate term officially ended, the Canvassing Board opened 933 rejected absentee ballots that both campaigns agreed should be counted. As a result, Franken's lead increased to 225.
The following Monday, the recount ended when the State Canvassing Board certified that result.
But Franken wasn't on his way to Washington DC just yet. He did not have a signed election certificate, signifying he was the official winner, because Coleman had 10 days to file a lawsuit contesting the election results.
Still, Franken promptly summoned reported to his downtown Minneapolis condominium. Two months after the election, it was now Franken claiming victory.
"After 62 days of careful and painstaking hand inspections of nearly three million ballots, after hours and hours of hard work by election officials and volunteers across this state, I am proud to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota," he said.
His wife Franni at his side, Franken talked about wanting to get on with the job of senator.
"I want you all to know that I'm ready to go to Washington and get to work just as soon as possible," said Franken. "I look forward to joining President-Elect Obama and Senator Klobuchar in getting our country moving in the right direction again."
Franken let his statement speak for itself. He took no questions, nor did he talk about a highly publicized meeting he had earlier in the week with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate. The two talked about seating Franken in the Senate, and about his possible committee assignments.
As Franken made plans for a move to Washington, Coleman and his attorneys scrambled to put together a lawsuit they promised to file within 24 hours.