The Minnesota Election Trial: A Legal Mess

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The Minnesota election court is rolling along without delays today, and the fairly productive morning we’ve just had served to make even clearer something that we’ve known all along: Once you get to the most minute levels of an election, the whole thing is a legal mess.

The Coleman legal team continued its questioning of Jim Gelbmann, the Deputy Secretary of State who oversaw much of the recount. The focus of the Coleman team’s case is not simply human error but human variation — that is, the recount rules may have been uniform statewide, but the human beings administering the rules applied them differently — and this constitutes a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.For example, an absentee ballot might be rejected as having a bad signature or wrong information about the voter — but it’s really a matter of sloppy handwriting that an election official in one corner of the state would recognize and let slide, while someone elsewhere wouldn’t let it pass. At this point it’s hard to imagine any election system that would accomplish true equality of treatment — and if it does exist, it’ll take a long time to sort this out.

It’s also become so much more apparent just how problematic it was for the state Supreme Court to have given the campaigns a veto power over the sorting and re-admission of absentee ballots that were found to have been rejected through clerical errors. Over 400 ballots now exist that the local officials and the state officers believe should be counted, and are still sealed up.

“So based on the candidates’ representatives’ own desires and motives, the people whose votes weren’t counted were disenfranchised,” said Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg, building his case that ballots now exist that must be counted.

To which Gelbmann replied: “That is correct, and that was pursuant to the Supreme Court order.”

Late Update: This post originally made an incorrect reference to a ruling on a legal motion relating to the scope of the case, when the ruling was in fact related to a different motion. The rules of evidence remain open but unresolved for now.

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