This editorial in the Morrison County Record takes Mark Ritchie to task on several fronts. Here’s the first criticism that Tom West, the MCRecord’s GM/Editor, leveled against SecState Ritchie:

Except for a few extreme partisans, I think most Minnesotans want to be sure that all legal votes are counted. However, I doubt now that we will ever know if that happened. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, as the chief election officer of the state, is responsible for the mess along with a number of county auditors and city election officials. Part of Ritchie’s job is to train the county auditors, and in the larger cities the city clerk or chief election officials, how to conduct a fair election. It’s the job of those he trains to then teach the election judges their duties. It’s clear that as teachers, Ritchie and some others are lacking.

This should’ve been SOP because it’s such a no-brainer. There shouldn’t have been confusion on what criteria had to be met for an absentee ballot to be accepted as validly cast. There are 4 clearly defined reasons for rejecting a ballot. Here’s what Minnesota’s election says about accepting/rejecting absentee ballots:

The election judges shall mark the return envelope “Accepted” and initial or sign the return envelope below the word “Accepted” if the election judges or a majority of them are satisfied that:
(1) the voter’s name and address on the return envelope are the same as the information provided on the absentee ballot application;
(2) the voter’s signature on the return envelope is the genuine signature of the individual who made the application for ballots and the certificate has been completed as prescribed in the directions for casting an absentee ballot, except that if a person other than the voter applied for the absentee ballot under applicable Minnesota Rules, the signature is not required to match;
(3) the voter is registered and eligible to vote in the precinct or has included a properly completed voter registration application in the return envelope; and
(4) the voter has not already voted at that election, either in person or by absentee ballot.
There is no other reason for rejecting an absentee ballot. In particular, failure to place the envelope within the security envelope before placing it in the outer white envelope is not a reason to reject an absentee ballot.

It isn’t difficult to determine whether the voter’s name and address on the return envelope are the same. It isn’t difficult to determine whether the voter’s signature on the return envelope is the genuine signature of the individual who made the application for ballots or whether “the certificate has been completed as prescribed in the directions for casting an absentee ballot.” It isn’t difficult to determine if “the voter is registered and eligible to vote in the precinct or has included a properly completed voter registration application in the return envelope.” It isn’t difficult determining whether “the voter has…already voted…”

It isn’t difficult if the workers have been trained or undergone a refresher course on absentee ballots.

Here’s another criticism Mr. West leveled against SecState Ritchie:

In one of the Supreme Court rulings, it was decided that only the rejected ballots upon which the two campaigns agreed should be included in the recount. However, the campaigns have no special standing in this recount; it’s the people’s will and the integrity of the voting process that is in question. If Franken or Coleman objected to including a ballot, then the judgement of local officials, who had already acknowledged 1,346 mistakes, was allowed to stand.

That the Secretary of State did not step in and ask the Supreme Court for statewide uniformity in determining whether ballots were wrongly rejected, reflects poorly on his leadership. (I should note that on this point alone, for Coleman to win the overall election, he probably would need 60 percent of the 654 ballots to be in his favor, compared to 25 percent for Franken and 15 percent for Dean Barkley or other third party candidates. That’s not likely to happen; probably the best he could do on this point is to push the margin under 100 votes.)

This is a big deal because the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bush v. Gore is the ruling precedent. Here’s what Michael Stokes Paulsen, a law professor at St. Thomas University, wrote about Bush v. Gore:

By a vote of 7-2, Bush v. Gore (2000) ruled that Florida’s recount violated the principle that all votes must be treated uniformly. Applying precedents dating to the 1960s, the Court found that the Equal Protection Clause meant that ballots must be treated so as to give every vote equal weight. A state may not, by “arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another.” Florida’s lack of standards produced “unequal evaluation of ballots in several respects.” The state’s supreme court “ratified this uneven treatment” and created more of its own, and was unconstitutional.

It’s Mr. Ritchie’s job to know Minnesota’s election laws, the US Constitution’s rules pertaining to federal elections and court precedents affecting elections and recounts. Bush v. Gore isn’t an ancient ruling. It’s recent. It’s been examined. It’s sometimes been excoriated. Nonetheless, it’s still the relevant precedent.

Mr. Ritchie should be asked why he didn’t stand up for Minnesota’s voters and for existing, clearly-written, election laws for the uniform treatment of ballots. They weren’t treated with uniformity.

Mr. West raises another relevant point:

And then there is the infamous Minneapolis Ward 3 Precinct 1, where 133 ballots allegedly turned up missing. The original count is still being used, which increases Franken’s margin of victory by 46 votes. How can a recount include numbers with no paper trail? Most likely, those ballots never existed, but 133 others were double counted.

Here’s what the law says about recounts:

Recounts are typically administrative proceedings with the scope limited to the manual recount of the ballots validly cast for the office or ballot question and the declaration of the results. A recount is performed by a canvassing board or by its staff.

They couldn’t find the 133 physical ballots to verify that there wasn’t a double-counting of those votes. There’s an old cliche that says “I only know what I can prove.” We don’t have physical proof that those 133 votes are real or illusory. Because we don’t have that proof, we can’t assume that they existed.

It’s time that Mr. Ritchie was criticized for his mishandling of this recount. Adding votes that we can’t prove existed is mishandling Mr. Ritchie’s responsibilities. Not applying recount laws uniformly statewide is mishandling Mr. Ritchie’s responsibilities. Ignoring Minnesota State Statutes on what absentee ballots can’t be counted is mishandling Mr. Ritchie’s responsibilities.

Calling this a smooth process isn’t possible unless you ignore all the different places where the laws weren’t applied evenly or weren’t applied at all. That isn’t my idea of a smooth process.

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