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Election Law @ Moritz

Election Law @ Moritz

Information & Analysis

Senate race in MN: the recount process

Everybody is talking about the possibility of a recount and/or election contest occurring in the close Minnesota US Senate race between Norm Coleman (R) and Al Franken (D). Coleman and Franken are separated by approximately 500 votes as of 5:45 p.m. today. Here’s how the recount process would work.

Recount: An automatic recount would probably occur if the difference between the candidates’ totals was less than 0.5% of the total number of votes cast for the office. The most recent numbers show a difference of only 702 votes statewide, plenty close to trigger a recount (under the current numbers, anything less than 14,300 will result in a recount). While that number could change, it should not change much, because all in-person ballots should already have been counted and the number of absentee ballots that were cast and remain to be counted should be limited by Minnesota’s requirement that absentee voters have an “excuse.” However, even if the margin of victory falls outside the 0.5% cutoff, the “losing” candidate may still obtain a recount at their own expense by filing an appropriate petition with the Secretary of State. M.S. 204C.35. The deadline for filing the petition is generally within seven days after the canvass is completed. The deadline for completing the statewide canvass in Minnesota is about 17 days after the election. Candidates may waive automatic recounts if they so choose.

Election contests: An election contest must be filed within seven days after the canvass is completed (five days in the case of a primary). MSA 209.021. However, there are two exceptions. First, “if a contest is based upon a deliberate, serious, and material violation of the election laws which was discovered from the statements of receipts and disbursements required to be filed by the candidates and committees,” the complaint need not be filed until ten days after certification (five days for a primary). Second, where a recount petition is filed, the clock for filing an election contest does not begin to run until the results of the recount have been certified by the appropriate body. MSA 204C.35; 204C.36.

Election contests for US Senate are heard by a three-judge panel appointed by the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court. M.S. 209.045. The current Chief Justice, Eric Magnuson, was appointed by the current Republican governor. There are no explicit constraints on the partisanship of the judges Magnuson appoints (the party affiliations of Minnesota judges are notoriously difficult to determine, anyway). If there is a difference of opinion between the three judges, the majority opinion prevails. There is no explicit deadline for a decision. The decision may be appealed directly to the state Supreme Court. M.S. 209.09, 209.10. The current composition of the state Supreme Court is unknown, although a majority of them have been appointed by Republican governors.

Note that Minnesota law explicitly says that the courts will not install the “winner” of a US Senate election contest into office. Rather, the court will only determine who obtained the most legal votes, and will then forward that information to the US Senate for them to make the decision as to whom they want to include into their ranks. M.S. 209.12.


Edward B. Foley

Of Bouncing Balls and a Big Blue Shift

Edward B. Foley

It is a fortuitous coincidence that the University of Virginia’s Journal of Law & Politics has just published a piece of mine that shows the relevance of the current vote-counting process in Virginia’s Attorney General election to what might happen if the 2016 presidential election turns on a similar vote-counting process in Virginia. 

Read full post here.

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In the News

Daniel P. Tokaji

Ohio treasurer receives OK to host town halls

Professor Daniel Tokaji was quoted in an article from the Associated Press about an attorney general opinion that allows the Ohio treasurer to conduct telephone town halls using public money. The opinion will likely have broad ramifications for the upcoming elections, Tokaji said.

“As a practical matter, while that legal advice is certainly right, very serious concerns can arise about whether these are really intended to inform Ohio constituents about the operations of his office or if they’re campaign events,” he said.

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Info & Analysis

Tokaji and Strause release The New Soft Money: Outside Spending in Congressional Elections

Dan Tokaji and Renata Strause will release their report on independent spending, entitled The New Soft Money: Outside Spending in Congressional Elections on Wednesday, June 18.  The report includes interviews with former Members of Congress, such as Senators George Allen, Kent Conrad, and Ben Nelson, and Representatives Mark Critz, Tim Holden, Steve LaTourette, and Joe Walsh, as well as recent congressional candidates, campaign staff, political operatives, legislative staff, and representatives of outside groups. See here for details.

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