Thank heaven for paper ballots

The recount to determine the winner of Minnesota’s Senate race has been going on for six weeks, with a court challenge likely if Al Franken, who leads narrowly, is declared the winner. (WineRev’s diaries tell you everything you need to know about what’s going on in that race.)

Imagine how much more contentious this process would be if Minnesota did not use paper ballots in every county. Less than one one-hundredth of a percent of the vote separates Franken from Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. If touchscreen voting machines had been involved in any way, large numbers of people would surely believe the election had been rigged in favor of whoever came out ahead.

Mark Halvorson of Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota published this piece on what has worked well during the Minnesota recount, and how the system could still be improved.

Iowa had more state legislative races decided by less than 1 percent of the vote this year than in any other election I can remember. Fortunately, the state legislature heeded Secretary of State Mike Mauro’s call to require optical scanner machines with paper ballots in every county, and Governor Chet Culver signed that bill into law this spring. Otherwise the legitimacy of these extremely close races could have been questioned.

If you run into Mauro, thank him for his efforts to improve Iowa’s voting system, and encourage him to ask the legislature to take the next step toward “verified voting” (mandatory manual audits of voter-verified paper records). That would allay fears about malfunctions or tampering with the optical scanners as they count the votes.

As this map at shows, Minnesota is one of 18 states that has mandatory manual audits of voter-verified paper records. Iowa is one of 13 states that require paper ballots, but without mandatory audits to make sure the scanners are producing accurate counts.

Keep your eye on the Iowa Voters blog for updates on election integrity news and activism in Iowa.

Georgia runoff leaves no chance of 60-seat majority

We’re destined to find out whether the Republican minority in the U.S. Senate can break the record number of filibusters they set in 2007 and 2008.

Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss dramatically improved on his November 4 showing to win the runoff Senate election in Georgia by at least 10 points. The result doomed Democratic hopes of a 60-seat majority in the upper chamber.

It’s disappointing but not too surprising. Chambliss would have won outright on November 4 if not for Georgia’s unusual state law requiring the winner to receive 50 percent of the vote. Furthermore, Chambliss would have received 50 percent if not for extremely high black turnout with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, which benefited Democratic Senate candidate Jim Martin. Also, a Libertarian candidate won enough votes from Georgia conservatives last month to keep Chambliss from winning a majority.

I appreciate the tremendous campaign that Martin ran, which made a race out of what was supposed to be a Kansas or Oklahoma-style romp for the incumbent in this very red state. Unfortunately for Martin, turnout was light today, especially among black voters any Georgia Democrat needs to have a chance of winning a statewide election.

Democrats still have a chance to gain a 59th seat in the Senate, depending on what happens this month in Minnesota. The state canvassing board will consider thousands of challenged ballots, and the margin between Al Franken and Norm Coleman appears to be very slim. The outcome may depend on whether more than 1,000 absentee ballots that were rejected because of clerical errors are counted. Many observers expect this contest to end up in court. It’s also possible that the U.S. Senate could get involved, as it did following an extremely close and disputed Senate race in New Hampshire in 1974.

Don’t despair, Democrats: we still have a decent number of Senate pickup opportunities in 2010. Just today, Florida Republican Mel Martinez announced that he does not plan to run for re-election.

The Democratic edge in the Iowa Senate will be 32-18

A recount resolved the last Iowa Senate race to be called. In Senate district 10, Democratic incumbent Jeff Danielson defeated Walt Rogers by 22 votes. This was one of the surprisingly close races on election night, as Danielson was not considered a top-tier target of Republicans.

Iowa Democrats will have the largest advantage they have ever enjoyed in the Iowa Senate: 32-18.

One Iowa House race is still unresolved. Democratic incumbent Art Staed asked for a recount in House district 37, where the certified vote count showed him trailing Carolyn Renee Shulte by 14 votes. Staed was targeted not only by the Republican Party of Iowa but also by conservative interest groups such as the corporate-backed Iowa Leadership Council and the American Future Fund.

Depending on the outcome of the recount, the Democratic advantage in the Iowa House will be either 56-44 or 57-43.

What does a challenged ballot look like?

In December the Minnesota State Canvassing Board will review hundreds of challenged ballots to see whether voter intent can be discerned. Their rulings could determine the outcome of the Minnesota Senate race, where fewer than 200 votes separate Al Franken and Norm Coleman. Many votes remain to be recounted before the canvassing board meets.

Minnesota Public Radio has posted photos of 11 ballots that have been challenged for different reasons. Click the link to view these ballots and vote on whether they should be accepted or rejected, and if accepted, for whom the vote should count.

Of the 11 ballots, I would only put one in the reject pile. Another was questionable, in my opinion. The other nine clearly showed a voter preference for Coleman, Franken or independent candidate Dean Barkley.

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