NY Times reports GOP "strongly questioning" MN Sec. of State Ritchie's "objectivity" -- but not GOP praise of his bipartisan canvassing board appointments

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

The New York Times reported that Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, "who is in charge of the recount" in the Minnesota Senate race between Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken, "lamented the campaigns' 'hand grenades at each other,' " adding: "But as a well-known Democrat, he has not eluded those grenades, with Republicans strongly questioning his objectivity." But the Times did not note that Minnesota Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty said that the canvassing board Ritchie named to certify the vote overseeing the recount was "fair" and that a lawyer for Coleman's campaign also reportedly said that the "state should feel good about who's on the panel."

In a November 14 article about the upcoming recount of ballots cast in the Minnesota Senate race, The New York Times reported that Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, "who is in charge of the recount" in the race between Sen. Norm Coleman (R) and challenger Al Franken (D), "lamented the campaigns' 'hand grenades at each other.' " The Times added: "But as a well-known Democrat, he has not eluded those grenades, with Republicans strongly questioning his objectivity." The Times also reported that a five-member "state canvassing board will meet Dec. 16 to review all challenged ballots." However, in reporting that Republicans are "strongly questioning his objectivity," the Times did not note that Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, said that the board Ritchie named was "fair" and that a lawyer for Coleman's campaign reportedly said that the "state should feel good about who's on the panel."

In a November 12 press release, the Secretary of State's office announced the five members of the State Canvassing Board:

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie today announced the members of the State Canvassing Board. By Minnesota law, representation must include two Minnesota Supreme Court justices, two district court judges and the board is chaired by the Secretary of State. Canvass board members named are Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric J. Magnuson and Justice G. Barry Anderson. Chief Judge Kathleen R. Gearin and Assistant Chief Judge Edward J. Cleary have also been tapped from the Second Judicial District to serve on the board. Ritchie made his selections based upon recommendations made by Chief Justice Magnuson and Chief Judge Gearin.

Magnuson and Anderson were appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court by Pawlenty. The Associated Press reported of them:

  • ERIC MAGNUSON: A former law firm colleague of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Magnuson was appointed by Pawlenty to the Minnesota Supreme Court in June as its chief justice. Magnuson, 57, a noted appellate lawyer, sealed the governor's hold on the seven-member court as his fourth appointee. He worked with Pawlenty at the now-defunct Rider Bennett law firm and screened potential judicial appointees for Pawlenty from 2003 to 2008. Magnuson is viewed as a friend to social conservatives.
  • G. BARRY ANDERSON: A former attorney for the state Republican Party, Anderson has served on the state Supreme Court since Pawlenty put him there in 2004. Anderson, 54, served on the state Court of Appeals for six years and has declined partisan endorsements in his judicial elections. He was city attorney in Hutchinson, Minn., from 1987 to 1998. Anderson specialized in civil trials before his judicial career began.

In a November 13 article the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported:

They're the Minnesota General Election Canvassing Board, and, after a hand recount of 2.92 million ballots, they will scrutinize some fraction of those ballots in an attempt to focus -- amid the circus of mass media scrutiny and political maneuvering, and through the scribble of errant pen strokes on bubble forms -- whether each voter wanted to re-elect Republican Sen. Norm Coleman or to replace him with Democrat Al Franken.

[...]

State law defines the canvassing board as two state Supreme Court justices, two district judges and the secretary of state. Ritchie asked Magnuson and Gearin to pick two from their respective pools. They picked themselves and their next-highest-ranking jurist.

Politically, the panel is diverse. Magnuson and Anderson were appointed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Gearin was elected in a nonpartisan race in 1986 and declined to say with what party, if any, she aligns herself. Cleary was appointed by Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura.

That mix is pleasing to Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute.

"These are some of our very best judges," he said. "I look at that and say, 'This is going to be fair.' "

Jacobs also noted that Ritchie and the canvassing board have little to do with the bulk of the recount process.

The AP reported on November 13 that "Fritz Knaak, Coleman's lead lawyer, said he was comfortable with the board's makeup. 'The people of this state should feel good about who's on the panel,' he said."

Similarly, during the November 12 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Pawlenty said of the board: "In this case, the final decisions are made by a canvassing board of five people. It consists of the secretary of state plus four judges. Those folks were named today. The four judges that were named, two of them I appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court ... two others have good reputations in Minnesota, so I think it's going to be a fair system."

Additionally, the Times stated that Knaak has been "[a]ccusing the Franken campaign of using 'shenanigans' to narrow Mr. Coleman's lead" during the pre-recount audit of votes in the Minnesota Senate race. However, the Times did not note, as Media Matters for America has documented, that Pawlenty has said that there is "no actual evidence that there's been any fraud or problems" in counting the votes. Nor did the Times note that with regard to one issue that Knaak raised, he subsequently said he's been assured there weren't any purported shenanigans. On November 8, Knaak said of the discredited rumor that ballots were left in Minneapolis director of elections Cindy Reichert's car: "We were actually told ballots had been riding around in her car for several days, which raised all kinds of integrity questions." However, Knaak also reportedly said that same day that he was assured the ballots weren't tampered with. On November 10, Knaak further stated: "It does not appear that there was any ballot-tampering, and that was our concern."

From the November 14 New York Times article:

The state canvassing board will meet Dec. 16 to review all challenged ballots, and hopes to conclude its work by Dec. 19, Mr. Ritchie said, although he made no promises.

Both campaigns are scrambling to assemble recount teams -- soliciting online donations, rounding up hundreds of volunteers and deploying legions of lawyers.

The Coleman team recently got $5,000 from the political action committee of Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential hopeful.

The Franken's campaign is asking supporters to house volunteers who will travel across the state during the recount.

"The office is actually more crowded than it's ever been at any time in the campaign because we have to mount this so quickly," said Mr. Franken, who has appealed to major supporters for financial and legal help. "I'm sort of anxious to get to work, with multiple problems facing the country. It's weird to not be able to do that."

If Fritz Knaak has his way, Mr. Franken will never have a shot at solving those problems. A lawyer hired by Mr. Coleman expressly for the recount, Mr. Knaak described himself as "the new gun with the shiny pistol." Citing suspicion over what he called a series of "shenanigans" that have narrowed Mr. Coleman's lead, he has requested the official paper tape with the number of ballots and the time stamp printed out by each ballot machine, in every voting precinct.

In interviews, Mr. Coleman has said he had hoped taxpayers would be spared the expense of a recount, which Mr. Ritchie's office estimated at 3 cents a ballot, or about $87,000, not including each campaign's expenses.

As the recount nears, brickbats from the candidates, their surrogates and ordinary voters are coming fast and furious.

Mr. Coleman's campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan, accused the Franken campaign of "a brazen, last minute act of desperation," by asking Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, to reconsider 461 rejected absentee ballots.

Mr. Franken's lead lawyer, Marc Elias, called such assertions of ballot stuffing "fanciful and bogus."

Mr. Ritchie, who is in charge of the recount, lamented the campaigns' "hand grenades at each other." But as a well-known Democrat, he has not eluded those grenades, with Republicans strongly questioning his objectivity.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Coleman campaign cited "concerns about" Mr. Ritchie's "ability to act as an unbiased official."

From the November 12 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

SEAN HANNITY (co-host): All right. Now, for -- but we have a problem with the secretary of state, Mark Ritchie, do we not? He's a liberal partisan secretary of state. When you look through his record, he has ties to this controversial group we discuss a lot, ACORN. He attended the 2008 Democratic convention. How much faith and hope and confidence do you have in Ritchie considering his radical relationships and partisanship, even connected to MoveOn.org?

PAWLENTY: Well, all secretaries of states are elected, and they have partisan backgrounds of one party or the other. In this case, the final decisions are made by a canvassing board of five people. It consists of the secretary of state plus four judges. Those folks were named today. The four judges that were named, two of them I appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court --

HANNITY: All right --

PAWLENTY: -- two others have good reputations in Minnesota, so I think it's going to be a fair system.

Posted In
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2008 Elections
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