Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Senator Al Franken?

The Boston Herald here is reporting that the five-month long process of counting the vote in Minnesota's U.S. Senate election is finally coming to an end:
Norm Coleman’s lawyers all but conceded defeat in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race Tuesday and promised to appeal after a panel of three judges ordered no more than 400 new absentee ballots opened and counted, far fewer than the Republican had sought in his effort to overcome a lead held by Democrat Al Franken. "We are very pleased," said Franken lead lawyer Marc Elias shortly after the ruling, which calls for ballots to be opened next week.

While I haven't followed this story too closely for the last four months -- I lost interest after nothing was resolved 4 weeks after Minnesotans actually cast their ballots and no winner was yet determined -- the "tie" vote in this race brings to mind three thoughts:

1. No recount should ever take five months to decide. This is abusive to the people of Minnesota who have been without half of their due representation in the U.S. Senate since Congress went into session three months ago, arguably a very important three month period. The reason this has taken so long is entirely because lawyers run our country, lawyers make a ton of money when litigation gets drawn out, and our system allows far too many appeals. In the name of justice, in the name of getting every vote counted exactly right, justice has been completely lost by denying Minnesota a senator for the last three months.

2. Whenever no one achieves a majority, there ought to be an instant run-off. The reason Minnesota had a tie vote in 2008 was because there were three candidates in the race. Forty-two percent voted for Franken. Forty-two percent voted for Coleman. Fifteen percent voted for Dean Barkley. If the Barkley voters had split say 5:4 or 2:1 for one or the other of the top-two in a run-off, Minnesota would have a senator now. Some states, such as Georgia, require a second election when no one achieves 50% + 1. I think a better idea is to have an instant run-off. If Minnesota had rank-voting, they would have had a winner five months ago, as the second choice votes of Barkley voters would have decided the race and given the winner a majority; and there would not have been a need for a costly new election.

3. We ought to have electronic voting. Paper ballots are archaic and always problematic in close elections. On the fringes of our body politic are paranoid people who irrationally fear electronic voting. It makes no sense. There is no reason to think that people will be cheated in a vote conducted on computers and that the cheating will not be caught. The excuse for all of the endless appeals in the Minnesota race is that each side has challenged the legitimacy of large numbers of the paper ballots cast for the other guy. If you press a button on a computer screen, there is no doubt whom you voted for and there is never a need for a recount. This is the 21st Century. In order to prevent even an attempt at fraud, all we need to do is make the penalties for shenanigans very stiff.

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