Diary

About one of those rejected ballots Franken did not want counted

Promoted from the diaries by Erick.

What you are about to read is how one of the attorneys working for the Franken campaign tried to eliminate a legally cast absentee ballot because it was a vote for Sen. Coleman. What you are about to read is a firsthand report from the man who witnessed this play out right in front of him. Sit down and read Chris Tiedeman’s account of an eventful episode in the recount process. Just be prepared to get very, very angry.

I was a volunteer attorney for the Coleman campaign during the recount phase of the post election attempt to figure out exactly who won the US Senate Race in 2008. I helped recruit local MN attorneys in counties around the state, I helped examine ballots accepted on Election Day during the recount, and for the sake of this story, I assisted in reviewing some of the rejected absentee ballots at the end of the recount process.

For much of New Year’s Eve and the day before, I spent my time in Anoka and then Dakota County. In Anoka County, because there was a group of potentially wrongfully rejected absentees that the Franken Campaign did not want reviewed, the process broke down entirely and no ballots were examined from either Anoka or Isanti counties at that time.

I spent the rest of the next two days in Hastings working with Carver, Scott, Goodhue and finally Dakota County. The purpose was to look at rejected absentee ballots that the counties felt were either wrongfully rejected by the counties themselves, or at least were worthy of scrutiny by the campaigns to determine whether the ballots were wrongfully rejected.

Dakota County had nearly 200 ballots for the two campaigns to review together (compared to 4 brought by Carver). Dakota County officials pulled the ballots together into categories; meaning that within each category, presumably each of the ballots should be treated the same by the two campaigns. In other words, if one ballot in a category was deemed wrongly rejected by the two campaigns, it was likely that the remainder in the same category were also wrongly rejected.

Towards the end of the second day, the county officials and the two campaigns were examining a category that the county officials said were wrongly rejected because of a legitimate error by a county elections official. If my memory serves me, there were approximately 15 or so ballots in that category. They were ballots where the voter was registered to vote, and the county official mailed an envelope with the ballot that should have been sent to a non-registered voter. Apparently there are two distinctly identifiable envelopes mailed to voters depending on whether they are already registered or need to register when casting their ballot.

Towards the end of that category, I saw my fiancé Sara’s name on the list. I tried, at first, to examine the ballots leading up to hers with my best poker face in hopes that we’d examine her ballot as we’d examined the others in the category, and not discuss it based on who she was as an identifiable voter.

I had no such luck.

When we came to examine Sara’s ballot, the Franken attorney (who I had been working with for two days) recognized my name as a witness to her absentee ballot.

As I wrote above, we were looking at a category of ballots that the county and both campaigns agreed were wrongly rejected as a result of an error made by a county worker, not the voter.

I recall the smug look, and devious grin on the face of the Franken attorney as looked at my witness signature on the ballot envelope. I openly admitted then that the ballot was my fiancé’s, and that I had served as a witness for her so she could cast her ballot absentee. She was scheduled to be in California on business on Election Day.

Among the other reasons an absentee ballot can be rejected is when the signature on the request for the absentee ballot and the signature on the absentee ballot submission don’t match. For the obvious reason of protecting voters against having their ballot cast absentee by someone other than themselves, this reason for rejection makes sense and is something I fully support.

Knowing specifically that I (a Coleman attorney) was a witness to her ballot, and suspecting that her ballot was cast for Coleman, the Franken Attorney said he believed that the signatures on her absentee ballot did not match the signature on her absentee ballot request, and that it was his position (the position of the Franken campaign) that her ballot should not be included in the recount.

The Franken lawyers rejected her ballot with that same smug grin, which caused the county staff (head of elections and the county attorney) to roll their eyes in disgust. It was clear that the signatures did match, but the courts gave the two campaigns absolute veto power. A “signature mismatch” provided the most “grey area” and creative interpretation for lawyers like those Franken Lawyers who vetoed my fiancé’s vote to prevent an otherwise wrongly rejected absentee ballot from being counted by the canvassing board.

The Franken line, for about the first third of this process, was that “every vote should be counted.” And if that is their sentiment, I agree. Every legally cast vote should be counted. And no ballot should be counted more than once.

After all, one of our most cherished rights is the right to vote.

Franken’s campaign took that right away from my fiancé because they could identify that a supporter of Senator Coleman witnessed her ballot.

The fact that Al Franken’s campaign was willing to disenfranchise a specific voter (any specific voter) for raw politics should give every voter, regardless of party, reason to be outraged.

It is certainly reason for people, regardless of party, to support seeing this process through to the end.

Mr. Franken said all the right things in public. “Count every vote” sounds noble. In this instance, however, Chris Tiedeman can state without hesitation that the Franken campaign’s attorney tried to disenfranchise his fiance Sara’s vote because he’s the eyewitness.

Fortunately, the story won’t end there. Last week, Hennepin County Judge Denise Reillymade this declaration about rejected absentee ballots:

“The panel is going to make sure that every legally cast and wrongfully rejected ballot is opened and counted,” Reilly said in court today.

This means that the ballot that the Franken campaign tossed out will be counted because it was improperly rejected.

Let’s summarize things here because a number of important points must be made:

  • Chris Tiedeman’s fiance Sara filled everything out properly.
  • Chris witnessed the fact that Sara filled out the absentee ballot properly.
  • When Sara put the ballot in the envelope, she signed her name on the envelope according to Minnesota election law.
  • After Sara signed the envelope, Chris signed the envelope, thereby testifying to the fact that the ballot was properly filled out in his presence.
  • Despite the fact that the ballot was properly filled out, one of Al Franken’s attorneys rejected it, with the likely reason that Franken’s attorney didn’t want to count a vote for Sen. Coleman.

Because of this incident, we have clear proof that Team Franken’s mantra of “Count every vote” is hollow and meaningless. That mantra certainly isn’t a conviction. It’s more likely that their mantra was done for PR purposes. This is why we need the election contest go forward.

Without Judge Denise Reilly’s ruling, the Franken campaign might have gotten away with disenfranchising a legal voter. It isn’t a stretch to think that the Franken campaign tried this because they didn’t want to count a vote for Sen. Coleman.

There are genuine heroes in this story, starting with Chris Tiedeman and his fiance Sara. Sara played by the rules. She took her voting responsibility seriously. She cast her vote properly.

Chris knows this because he witnessed Sara fill out the ballot and put it in the envelope, at which time Chris signed it, in essence testifying to the fct that it was properly cast.

The other hero in this is Judge Denise Reilly for ruling that every properly cast ballot would be counted. That’s the only way of ensuring the integrity of close elections.

Without heroes like Judge Reilly, Chris Tiedeman and his fiance Sara, we wouldn’t have known what the Franken campaign did.