WSJ, Fox News' Hume and Hannity repeated baseless "car ballot" story to suggest vote tampering by MN officials

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI, JEREMY HOLDEN & BRIAN FREDERICK

The Wall Street Journal, Sean Hannity, and Brit Hume advanced rumors that 32 absentee ballots in Minnesota's Senate election were left in a car and mishandled, suggesting that election officials may have tampered with votes in an effort to benefit Al Franken. The claims followed similar allegations by Coleman campaign lawyer Fritz Knaak. However, none of the three mentioned that Knaak reportedly said later, "It does not appear that there was any ballot-tampering, and that was our concern." Further, election officials have repeatedly said the ballots were sealed and held in a secure location until they were counted.

In recent reports on the pre-recount audit of results in Minnesota's Senate election, The Wall Street Journal, Sean Hannity, and Brit Hume advanced rumors that 32 absentee ballots from Minneapolis were mishandled, suggesting that election officials may have tampered with votes in an effort to benefit Al Franken (D), who is challenging Sen. Norm Coleman (R). The claims followed comments made on November 8 by Fritz Knaak, a lawyer representing Coleman's campaign, who reportedly said, "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." However, none of the three mentioned that Knaak reportedly said later on November 8 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." Further, Hennepin County officials have repeatedly said the ballots were sealed and held in a secure location, and Reichert has reportedly said that the claim that the ballots were in her car was false, as was the claim that the ballots sat in a car for days.

  • In a November 12 editorial headlined "Mischief in Minnesota?" the Journal wrote: "You'd think Democrats would be content with last week's electoral rout. But judging from the odd doings in Minnesota, some in their party wouldn't mind adding to their jackpot by stealing a Senate seat for left-wing joker Al Franken." The Journal wrote of the absentee ballots: "[N]early every 'fix' has gone for Mr. Franken, in some cases under strange circumstances. For example, there was Friday night's announcement by Minneapolis's director of elections that she'd forgotten to count 32 absentee ballots in her car."
  • During the November 11 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, host Sean Hannity said to Fox News contributor Lanny Davis: "You're missing a lot of issues here that actually matter, and one is lack of transparency. Another is a lack of uniform standards for protecting of the ballots. We have an issue of ballots showing up in a car somewhere, and then they're gonna be counted? Where were these ballots before? So there -- there's a lot of questions about -- about, you know, behavior on the part of some."
  • Similarly, during the November 11 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Brit Hume said, "The campaigns are also negotiating ballot security standards after an unsuccessful challenge by Coleman to halt the counting of 32 absentee ballots that were supposedly left for days in the trunk of an election official's car." During Hume's report, on-screen graphics read "FRAUD ALERT" and "CAR TROUBLE."

Brit Hume screengrab

Brit Hume screengrab

In a November 12 MinnPost.com article, reporter and Minneapolis Public Radio media analyst David Brauer explained the origins of the story that the missing ballots had been in Reichert's car: "The 'car ballot' story emerged Saturday [November 8] from the mouth of Coleman lawyer Fritz Knaak, who, according to AP, told reporters, 'We were actually told ballots had been riding around in her car for several days, which raised all kinds of integrity questions.' "

But contrary to the accusations by the Journal, Hannity, and Hume, Brauer also reported: "Knaak never provided a source and did not return two MinnPost calls for comment. However, he was already backing off his story at the same press event. As that day's [St. Paul] Pioneer Press noted, 'Knaak said he feels assured that what was going on with the 32 ballots was neither wrong nor unfair.' "

Indeed, the Star Tribune further reported in a November 11 article that Knaak said on November 10 that "we've heard enough from the city attorney to let go of this. It does not appear that there was any ballot-tampering, and that was our concern." From the article:

One dispute resolved

On Saturday, the Coleman campaign had asked for an injunction to stop the counting of 32 absentee ballots in Minneapolis that had not been delivered on Election Day. A judge declined to grant the injunction, and Knaak said Monday that "we've heard enough from the city attorney to let go of this. It does not appear that there was any ballot-tampering, and that was our concern."

Minneapolis city election officials said the 32 ballots were never "missing" and were delivered after Election Day.

Knaak said that with certified totals in, the campaign is now focused on the recount process.

A November 8 AP article also reported: "Knaak also said a Minneapolis attorney reassured Coleman's campaign that no one but an elected official had access to the 32 ballots and there was no tampering."

Regarding the integrity of the ballots, Brauer reported that Reichert made "three fundamental points":

Before getting into the details, she makes three fundamental points:

1. The ballots where never in her car.

2. The ballots were never in anyone's car for several days.

3. The ballots were never lost or forgotten, and spent Election Night until counting day in secure city facilities. [emphasis in original]

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."

Similarly, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported on November 10 that 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."

From The Wall Street Journal's November 12 editorial:

The vanishing Coleman vote came during a week in which election officials are obliged to double-check their initial results. Minnesota is required to do these audits, and it isn't unusual for officials to report that they transposed a number here or there. In a normal audit, these mistakes could be expected to cut both ways. Instead, nearly every "fix" has gone for Mr. Franken, in some cases under strange circumstances.

For example, there was Friday night's announcement by Minneapolis's director of elections that she'd forgotten to count 32 absentee ballots in her car. The Coleman campaign scrambled to get a county judge to halt the counting of these absentees, since it was impossible to prove their integrity 72 hours after the polls closed. The judge refused on grounds that she lacked jurisdiction.

From the November 11 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: You're missing a lot of issues here that actually matter, and one is lack of transparency. Another is a lack of uniform standards for protecting of the ballots. We have an issue of ballots showing up in a car somewhere, and then they're gonna be counted? Where were these ballots before?

So there -- there's a lot of questions about -- about, you know, behavior on the part of some.

From the November 11 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

HUME: There are worries about what's up in that Minnesota Senate race, where Republican incumbent Norm Coleman was ahead of Democrat Al Franken by 725 votes the morning after the election.

But Franken has narrowed the gap to about 200, even though a recount has not yet been started. That is because election officials are correcting supposed typos in how the numbers were reported. Those corrections have added 435 votes to Franken while taking away 69 from Coleman. And virtually all of Franken's new votes came from just three of the more than 41,000 precincts.

The campaigns are also negotiating ballot security standards after an unsuccessful challenge by Coleman to halt the counting of 32 absentee ballots that were supposedly left for days in the trunk of an election official's car.

Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty says, quote, "These changes seem to disproportionally -- overwhelmingly favor Al Franken."

Posted In
Elections
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Sean Hannity, Brit Hume
Show/Publication
Special Report with Brit Hume, Hannity & Colmes, The Wall Street Journal
Stories/Interests
2008 Elections
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