Coleman vs. Franken

January 6th, 2009

These words can be found in Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution:

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members….

Either the House of Representatives or the Senate can refuse to seat anyone sent to join it by any congressional district or state.  This power is absolute.  Complain if you like, but that’s the way it is.  Hence the brewing controversies over potential senators from the states of Illinois and Minnesota.

Senator-appointee Roland Burris, anointed by disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, is headed to Washington to claim the Senate seat formerly occupied by President-elect Barack Obama.  According to the Chicago Tribune, the Senate has already rejected his certificate of appointment, apparently because Illinois law requires it to be counter-signed by the Illinois secretary of state, and that worthy official refuses to do so.  Republicans and some Democrats have said they will vote against seating him, so his hoped-for Senate career seems unlikely.  However, this could become an unseemly fight, given that the race card is being played rather crudely, as indicated by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The bigger controversy is likely to be whether the Senate will accept either Norm Coleman, the incumbent Republican Senator from Illinois, or Al Franken, erstwhile comedian and radio commentator, now the Democratic challenger for Coleman’s seat.  Republican Senator Jon Cornyn has said that Republicans in the Senate will filibuster any attempt to seat Franken before all legal challenges have been resolved.

Anyone following the news knows that the Minnesota Senate contest is taking on Floridian proportions.  First Coleman was the winner by just a few votes, and now, after all manner of recount challenges by both sides, Franken is the winner by just a few votes–maybe.  The challenges aren’t over yet, particularly those that will play out in one courtroom or another.

I thought it would be interesting to see how various political wings of the press were covering this.  The New York Times today reported that the Minnesota State Canvassing Board has certified Franken as the winner, properly noting that a further legal challenge is almost certain.  Yesterday the Times reported, with obvious approval, that it looked like Coleman would be the winner.  They went on to quote New York Senator Chuck Schumer as saying,

With the Minnesota recount complete, it is now clear that Al Franken won the election. The Canvassing Board will meet tomorrow to wrap up its work and certify him the winner, and while there are still possible legal issues that will run their course, there is no longer any doubt who will be the next Senator from Minnesota.

The Washington Post and the Washington Times both provided fairly even-handed reports.  The Washington Times added balance by reporting Senator Cornyn’s response to Senator Schumer, who is the new Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee:

Senator Schumer will likely play a key role in determining who ultimately assumes this Senate seat….  Pre-judging the outcome while litigation is still pending calls into question his ability to impartially preside over this matter when it comes before the Committee, as it most certainly will.

The Washington Post added interesting information on the arcane seniority rules of the Senate and how these machinations could determine who chairs important committees ten years from now.

However, the most interesting point of view comes from The Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal, which states that “strange things keep happening in Minnesota.”  One of the most telling points is that with Democrats largely in control of the state’s machinery, convoluted controversies seem to consistently come out to the net advantage of Franken.  In their opinion,

Minnesotans like to think that their state isn’t like New Jersey or Louisiana, and typically it isn’t. But we can’t recall a similar recount involving optical scanning machines that has changed so many votes, and in which nearly every crucial decision worked to the advantage of the same candidate. The Coleman campaign clearly misjudged the politics here, and the apparent willingness of a partisan like [Democratic Secretary of State] Ritchie to help his preferred candidate, Mr. Franken. If the Canvassing Board certifies Mr. Franken as the winner based on the current count, it will be anointing a tainted and undeserving Senator.

Personally, I don’t have a dog in this hunt.  I don’t know much about Norm Coleman, and although what I do know about Al Franken makes me think he’s a pretty odious person, he might do well in the Senate.  After all, he’d be among a lot of other odious people.  So, I’ll just continue watching the show, wondering if the politicians and judges of Minnesota can make themselves as ridiculous as those of some other states.

One thing is certain:  No matter who gets this Minnesota seat in the Senate, certain members of the losing party and their media partisans will weep and wail for a long time to come.  Based on recent experience, if the Democrats lose they will howl louder, longer, and in more profane language, hatching inane conspiracy theories along the way.  It would certainly be more amusing if Franken loses.


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4 Responses to “Coleman vs. Franken”



  1. Kevin |

    I think it’d be a mistake to assume that Coleman isn’t also trying to manipulate the election rules to his benefit. Remember that almost all of the ballots being fought over these last few weeks were not counted originally because they were objected by by one party or the other. Reportedly most of them were the product of objections by the Coleman camp.

    One that I distinctly remember reading about a week or so ago was a ballot which had copious areas outside of the proffered ovals drawn on. But of the two ovals, the Franken one was fully filled in and the Coleman one hadn’t been touched.

    Now, as a technical point it is true that virtually every governmental entity which holds optical scan elections stipulates in the directions to only fill in the oval and nothing else. So, on strictly technical merit the Coleman objection had some legs. But what was the intent of the voter, sloppiness notwithstanding? The elections board ruled that the voter intended to choose Franken.

    The first question that occurred to me when I first read that account was whether and to what degree the electoral choices of the physically handicapped or impaired are with such a system? There are several nervous system-based impairments/diseases which render the individual no less intelligent than before but with varying degrees of inability to control his/her hands, for example. I would personally expect such a person to have a very difficult time filling in just the ovals, n’est pas? But I’m sure we’d both agree that any mentally competent citizen has a right to vote and to have that vote counted, whether they were able to stay within the lines or not.

    As I say, I think it’d be a mistake to assume that Coleman’s motives in all this are any purer than Franken’s or that he’s necessarily more interested in letting the voters have the final say in who gets the seat. Which of course shouldn’t be construed as implying that Franken’s are any purer either.


  2. Tom |

    I honestly don’t care whether Coleman or Franken wins the seat, although I’m sure citizens of Minnesota care. And I’m also sure party partisans across the fruited plain are exercised about it. No doubt both sides are pulling all the tricks they can to win. However, it does seem odd how often the recount aces end up in Franken’s hand.

    I don’t think much of Franken as a person, but I don’t know enough about Coleman to think he’s any better. This is just entertainment, as far as I’m concerned. There’s nothing better than a good political fight.

    And remember, Minnesota is the state whose good citizens elected Jesse Ventura as governor. He wasn’t any good, but at least he was entertaining. Maybe Franken could follow in his footsteps; he obviously isn’t any better substantively.


  3. doris |

    Hey,at least he’s funny! Maybe the counts keep coming up Franken,because he really won,n’est pas?


  4. Tom |

    Yep, could be Franken really did win. Problem is, with a winning margin so small and so many votes being handled by so many people in so many places, you could keep recounting ’til the cows come home and the result would always be a little different. The exact numbers, down to the last vote, won’t ever be known. That’s true in every election with huge numbers of voters.

    But the way I figure it, we win either way. If Franken loses, the whining and howling that will follow will be hilarious. If Coleman loses, we’ll just have another clown in the Senate. The difference will be that Franken’s a professional clown, while all the others are amateurs. That might make it pretty entertaining.


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