After months of legal maneuvering and public grandstanding in his futile effort to reverse the results of his excruciatingly close loss to Al Franken, former US Senator Norm Coleman is now calling for a revote in the Minnesota senate race. Sounds familiar, huh?
This represents a come to Jesus moment for Coleman and his attorneys, for as we learned here in Washington state during the 2004 gubernatorial contest—where Dino Rossi only started calling for a revote after it became clear he had lost the recount—a call for a do-over election is not only the last, desperate refuge of losers, it is a losing argument in itself.
“What does the court do?” Norm asked rhetorically. “Yeah, you know some folks are now talking about simply saying run it again, just run it again. … Ultimately the court has to make a determination, can they confirm, can they certify who got the most legally cast votes?”
Yeah… except, Coleman is an attorney, and so he knows that’s not the determination before the court. It’s the canvassing board that determines who got the most legally cast votes; the court ultimately only determines if the board acted properly, and within the applicable statutes. There are irregularities and errors in every election, and in a contest this close, nobody can absolutely confirm who got the most legally cast votes.
Coleman’s self-serving and situational solution?
“I got to believe next time this happens folks are going to say … if you have something within a couple of say percentage – this is by the way was thousandths of a percent – but if you have something within a couple of hundred votes out of three million cast, probably the best thing to do next time is run it again in three weeks and put all this other stuff aside.”
And, um… if three weeks later, it still comes to within a couple hundred votes out of three million, what then?
The problem for Coleman and his revote argument is that our election statutes clearly anticipate extremely close elections, as best illustrated by the provisions in place for handling an actual tie; in Minnesota as in most other jurisdictions, once the recount and challenge provisions have been exhausted, ties are determined not by the courts or by a new election, but by lot. This is because our election statutes generally prefer finality over certainty… and with good reason.
See, what Coleman has understandably lost sight of is that this election is not about him or Franken or their supporters or even the voters of Minnesota and their sense of justice and fair play. Elections are about the smooth, peaceful and efficient transfer of power. Elections are sometimes very close, and they are almost always conducted imperfectly, but the stability, continuity and legitimacy of our government is too important to be threatened by lengthy court challenges and perhaps an endless cycle of do-over elections.
In Minnesota in 2008, as in Washington state in 2004, the margin of victory is so far within the likely rate of error that it is fair to categorize both contests as a statistical tie. Perhaps Coleman did receive a few more legally cast votes than Franken, perhaps not. We’ll never know. But Franken was determined the winner by the rules in place at the time, and that makes him at least as legitimate as those who are selected by the drawing of straws or the flip of a coin… and certainly more legitimate than Coleman and his ill-conceived, selfish and ultimately futile calls for revote.