On Today, NBC's Cowan repeated as fact discredited rumors about ballots in Franken-Coleman race

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

In a report on NBC's Today about the Minnesota Senate race, Lee Cowan repeated the discredited rumor that "ballots have suddenly appeared out of nowhere, including some found unsecured in an election worker's car." In fact, according to election officials quoted in news reports, the ballots did not "suddenly appear[] out of nowhere," and they weren't "unsecured." Cowan also aired a statement by Fritz Knaak, a lawyer for Sen. Norm Coleman, apparently critical of the handling of the ballots in question, but he didn't report previous statements in which Knaak reportedly said he felt assured that the ballots weren't compromised.

During the November 13 edition of NBC's Today, correspondent Lee Cowan said that the pre-recount audit of votes in the Minnesota Senate race "has some remembering shades of Florida, of butterfly ballots and hanging chads" and then repeated the discredited rumor that "ballots have suddenly appeared out of nowhere, including some found unsecured in an election worker's car." In fact, according to election officials quoted in news reports, the ballots did not "suddenly appear[] out of nowhere," and they weren't "unsecured." Moreover, while Fritz Knaak, a lawyer for Sen. Norm Coleman, reportedly said on November 8, "We were actually told ballots had been riding around in [Minneapolis director of elections Cindy Reichert's] car for several days, which raised all kinds of integrity questions," he also reportedly said that same day that he was assured the ballots weren't tampered with, and also reportedly said on November 10 that "[i]t does not appear that there was any ballot-tampering, and that was our concern."

Although Cowan interviewed Knaak for the segment and aired a clip of Knaak apparently stating of the absentee ballots, "It was sort of the classic, very Minnesotan, I suppose, 'Well you just have to trust us.' I don't think so," Cowan did not mention the statements in which Knaak reportedly said he felt assured that the ballots weren't compromised. Nor did Cowan give any indication that he had contacted Minnesota election officials about the ballots.

As Media Matters for America has documented, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported of the absentee ballots in question: "On Election Day, officials attempted to deliver absentee ballots that arrived as part of a late mail delivery to the appropriate precinct. But some precincts had closed by the time they got there, and the ballots were returned to a secure location before being counted according to state law." Additionally, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on November 9 that the "32 Minneapolis ballots were part of the normal delivery of absentee ballots late in the polling day, according to Election Director Cindy Reichert. She said they were retained when they couldn't be delivered because some polling places had shut down for the day. She said the ballots were kept sealed until other election duties were completed and were being counted Saturday afternoon, with results to be delivered to the state on Monday."

From the November 13 edition of NBC's Today:

MEREDITH VIEIRA (co-host): If you thought the election debacle in Florida could never happen again, wait until you see the situation in Minnesota. Just over 200 votes separate Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and former Saturday Night Live star Al Franken in the race for the Senate. A recount gets under way next week, and NBC's Lee Cowan has more. Good morning, Lee.

COWAN: Good morning, Meredith. It was the razor-thin margin in this race here in Minnesota that forced this recount, which is gonna be the largest in Minnesota's history. Nearly 3 million ballots were cast; they now all have to be recounted by hand starting next week, and both campaigns are bringing in a whole lot of observers and a whole lot of lawyers.

[begin video clip]

COWAN: Election night in Minnesota after a long and nasty race. The winner? Well, no one.

FRANKEN: I believe that when all the votes are counted, we're gonna win this thing.

COLEMAN: Save your energy, OK? Keep being hopeful. I'm very -- feeling very good right now.

COWAN: Republican incumbent Norm Coleman was ahead by a mere 725 votes that night. But Saturday Night Live favorite Al Franken was catching up.

FRANKEN: What? You -- you thought this was going to be easy?

COWAN: By the next morning, Coleman's lead had dwindled to 477 votes; by the end of last week, 336. And by Wednesday, Franken was behind by just 206 votes.

MARC ELIAS (Franken campaign lawyer): I mean, think about that. Seven one-thousandths of a percent is the margin between these two.

COWAN: But Norm Coleman's lawyers aren't happy.

KNAAK: It seems actually very odd to us.

COWAN: It has some remembering shades of Florida, of butterfly ballots and hanging chads. There are neither of those here. Still, ballots have suddenly appeared out of nowhere, including some found unsecured in an election worker's car. Count them or not?

KNAAK: It was sort of the classic, very Minnesotan, I suppose, "Well, you just have to trust us." I don't think so.

COWAN: The race turned Minnesota nice into Minnesota mean, and hand-to-hand recount of millions of ballots is sure to make it worse.

ELIAS: They're licking their wounds, and I understand their natural impulse to run out and say, "Oh, no, no, no, stop counting, stop counting." But that isn't the way democracy happens.

COWAN: And now that it's not really over, voters are scrambling for a silver lining.

"CJ" (Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist): The only good thing about the recount is that there are no TV commercials, because we're tired of the commercials.

COWAN: Still, the reality is --

JOHN LOTT (University of Maryland visiting senior research scientist): I would imagine it's gonna be a very emotional thing for a while.

[end video clip]

COWAN: And the very real possibility, Meredith, is that by the time the next Congress convenes, Minnesota may have only one sitting U.S. senator, because they're still trying to figure this out. The counting may be over, but the legal challenges may just be beginning. Meredith.

VIEIRA: All right, Lee Cowan. A mess in Minnesota. Thank you very much.

Posted In
Elections
Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
Lee Cowan
Show/Publication
Today Show
Stories/Interests
2008 Elections
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