Team Franken Tackles The Coleman Electoral-Uncertainty Principle

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The Franken legal team made an interesting move this afternoon, in an obvious attempt to cut off Norm Coleman’s suggestion that the election can be thrown out because of various instances of clerical errors by officials — they have quite openly established in court that mistakes are made, and that a perfect election is impossible.

Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton has been examining Joe Mansky, the elections director for Ramsey County (St. Paul), about all the procedures used to recruit and train election workers, and the mechanics of absentee voting itself.

Hamilton then bluntly asked if there is any way to completely eliminate mistakes from this human process. “It’s impossible,” Mansky said, explaining that his responsibility as an election manager is to understand that mistakes are made, to plan for how they happen, and to minimize them.

“There’s really no way to run a perfect election, with no mistakes?” Hamilton said.

Manksy responded: “I’m afraid that’s right.”

So why ask Mansky about this? It might not be a coincidence that Team Coleman started planting the seeds for this latest rationale when they were first questioning Mansky all the way back during the second week of the trial, when one of the Coleman lawyers asked him if there’s a point at which the margin of error in an election can be higher than the difference in a close election, such that we can’t tell who really won.

At the time, it was Hamilton who objected to Mansky answering. But now Hamilton has revisited the errors issue with Mansky, using it to illustrate that Coleman is asking the court to hold the election to an impossible standard.Some other key moments this afternoon illustrated a disadvantage that the Coleman legal team really has against Team Franken. Hamilton moved to introduce CD-ROMs with a custom-filtered database — that is, a report culled from the state’s entire voter-registration database, containing info on the voters at issue here and with private identifying information not displayed. Hamilton said this was a better way to present evidence than what the Coleman team did, which was to get certified printouts for each individual voter from the Secretary of State.

Lead Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg objected, and had to spend some time talking to DFL technological director Jared Nordlund about how this works. Friedberg was repeatedly asking if information was being manipulated, altered or deleted. Nordlund and Hamilton explained that they started with a certified copy of the full Secretary of State database, updated as of March 1, 2009, and have used the report-builder function in Microsoft Access to build a custom file with the voter information at issue in this case.

Friedberg’s best-evidence objection seemed a bit odd, considering how the Coleman side got in serious trouble in the first week of the trial for using bad photocopies with key information removed or writing added on. But instead, he referred back to this episode, saying how his side got in trouble for using copies with “smudge marks.”

The judges allowed it, after Hamilton showed that the information is all verifiable from the original certified copy of the state database. Later on, Friedberg began making similar inquiries about database functionality with Mansky. And two possibilities became clear: Either Friedberg was deliberately trying to cast undue doubt on the validity of the the Franken evidence, as inferior to the stuff his side procured through a much more costly and time-consuming method — or he doesn’t understand the technology.

At his post-court press conference, Coleman spokesman Ben Ginsberg noted that the court accepted the CD-ROM, but added: “We may have ongoing objections to individual voters using their manufactured and manipulated sheets, from their own construction.”

(Ginsberg presser c/o The Uptake.)

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