As is the case with most of my diaries this started out as a comment for another diary and morphed into something a little bigger. The subject is the various wild speculation regarding the motives of the Coleman and Franken recount teams, the frivolity of their challenges and theories of RNC and/or Coleman recount strategies. I would like to provide some insight into this process from my point of view.
While it may be true that Coleman strategy is to "appear" to have won after the hand recount and before the challenged ballots are adjudicated, I believe that the use of salient exemplars of certain frivolous ballots by both campaigns and the MSM deflects the readers view from the real process that is ongoing in Minnesota and gives rise to the type of "urban legend" speculation that only obfuscates what many hard working and honest people are doing.
Because there are over 100 recount locations and often five separate recount stations per location there was a need for several thousand volunteer observers to adequately view the recount process. Add this to the fact that the optimum challenge team consists of two people, one to observe the sorting process and one to affirm the actual hand counting and it can easily be seen that many average citizens were placed in these roles. These people were predominately retired, self or unemployed or other folk who were able to devote full days for several days to volunteer for this process.
These people were given a rudimentary training session of how the process was to work, what to look for in the way of ballots to challenge and the candidates overall strategy in challenging ballots. This strategy on both sides is to challenge anything that looks suspicious that can give your candidate an advantage. The margins here are so slim that it is widely understood that one or two votes either way could mean the difference between victory and defeat. The gravity of their work is not lost on them.
There is barely enough professional staff on either side to have a staff person at each and every location. Lawyers are working pro bono, most often outside their fields of expertise to give their advice to the observers regarding potential challenges.
On the other side are the election officials. These are usually County Auditors with limited staff augmented by, you guessed it, volunteers who are largely retirees etc. The process is painstaking and extremely boring. Everyone involved, on all sides, must both attempt to do what they are doing with speed and accuracy. Both mental and physical fatigue can set it easily. It is hard work for which these people are paid nothing save a cup of coffee and a doughnut for breakfast and some pizza or a sub at lunch, wolfed down in haste in order to get on to the next precinct.
There are several factors that go into how challenges are made and passed on to the canvassing board. Challengers are asked to be assertive. There is a wide range of difference in interpreting assertiveness from one person to another. What is challenged in one county may not be in another and vice versa. Also the county officials running the show have widely different tolerances for frivolity in challenges. Some are hands on, no nonsense types who badger and cajole challengers into withdrawing challenges. Others are laissez faire types who simply wish to pass the buck to the canvassing board and let anything go through.
Ultimately, if someone vociferously stands their ground as a challenger these officials will, in almost every case, pass on the challenge to the board, if only for the sake of expediting the recount. These people have other work to do and want to get this stuff out of the way with as few problematic incidents as possible.
In general, from my observations, the Franken team has more volunteers, more lawyers and more staff than Coleman. Franken observers appear to be better trained as well. They know what their roles are and move between roles easily, giving their fellows needed breaks when asked. Some Coleman challengers are trained on the spot and told to challenge whatever the lead staff or volunteer person wants them to challenge, which they do with great enthusiasm. Often they must stay at their post for 3 to 4 hours at a time without a break. They get weary and grouchy.
The volunteer election officials have boring, tedious tasks. The counting proceeds one precinct at a time. First the ballots must be sorted to place them all with the same side facing up and same side facing top to bottom. Then they are sorted into 3 piles, Franken, Coleman and other. The officials place a stack of ballots back side up, turning each one over and then placing it into the correct pile. The observer must scan the back of the ballots for identifying marks (there are mostly judge's races on the back) then find the correct area on the front for the senate vote and determine if the vote should be challenged, all in the time it takes to turn a ballot over, and place it in a pile (based on perceived voter intent by the official). Challenged ballots are held aside. The ballots are then handed to another official who begins to count them, one official for each pile, placing them in stacks of 25 at right angles to each other until the precinct is counted.
Then another official checks the totals to the number of original ballots. If the totals do not match the ballots are recounted until they do match. All this while challengers are counting along with the officials to assure that the counts are correct. When it is determined that the counts match the challenged ballots get a sticker placed on them that states where they are from and what the challenge is based on. They are signed by the election official, copied, and returned to the precinct's ballots which are then resealed.
Did I say that this is a thankless, tedious job on all sides? Yet it is thrilling to be a part of this most democratic of processes and most people finish exhausted but proud.
Regarding the challenged ballots, each campaign receives a copy of every challenged ballot. The only other copies are sent to the canvassing board. These are the only people who know for certain what each and every challenged ballot looks like. Examples have surfaced in the media. These are generated by each campaign and have been thus far used to portray the other side as overly frivolous and deceitful. These represent a very small fraction of the total of challenged votes. This often leads to misunderstandings and speculation as to the motives of the two camps and the ulterior strategies employed.
While some might see the challenge of ballots marked for McCain and Franken as a national strategy to disenfranchise voters it has only been reported in two adjoining counties. Because there are few Coleman staffers and observers it is possible that all these ballots are the product of one overzealous observer coupled with an election official who let any challenge through without scrutiny. If this one person were zealous enough even a hard core election official would let them through simply to keep the peace and get on with their business.
Another salient exemplar is the widely ridiculed "lizard people" ballot which is one vote out of nearly three million and hardly represents anything more seditious than being the editorial expression of one, albeit very strange, voter.
To conclude, Minnesota's process, with the notable exception of several wound too tight volunteers and the two ever scheming opposing camps, is working exceedingly well. It is a model of right action and any attempts to cast aspersions on it could damage our democratic electoral process irreparably. This, I feel, is the true danger here. Although I can't stand Coleman I could stand six more years of him much better than if lies, innuendo and over the top speculation harm public impressions of legally sound systems of electing our representatives in this beautiful constitutional democratic republic.