As Minnesota awaits recount, e-voting is ruled out as issue in tight U.S Senate race

It's a close race, not a technology glitch, official says

While Minnesota election officials prepare for a recount to settle a close U.S. Senate race, no problems with the state's electronic voting equipment are apparently being eyed as possible reasons for the tight election.

John Aiken, director of communications for Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, said in an e-mail today that no factors so far point to any technical problems with the state's voting equipment that could have contributed to the ultra-slim margin between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and his Democratic challenger, Al Franken.

So far, unofficial results posted by the state show Coleman leading Franken by 206 votes out of more than 2.4 million ballots cast in the Senate contest. Coleman received 1,211,565 votes, or 41.99%, compared to 1,211,359 votes, or 41.98% for Franken, according to the unofficial state figures. Independent candidate Dean Barkley garnered 437,389 votes, or 15.16% of the total, followed by much smaller numbers of votes for several other independent candidates.

An Associated Press analysis of the close race found that about 25,000 more Minnesota voters made selections for presidential candidates than they did for U.S. Senate candidates, leading to questions over whether that vote gap meant there could have been a problem with the election equipment.

According to the AP analysis, "the nearly 25,000-vote difference in Minnesota presidential and U.S. Senate race tallies shows that most ballots lacking a recorded Senate vote were cast in counties won by Democrat Barack Obama."

The AP report said it was possible that "some voters may have intentionally bypassed the race," while other voters may have mismarked their ballots or optical scanning machines may have misread them.

Aiken said that there is nothing to indicate that any problems with the state's optical scanning ballot systems affected the Senate race in any way. Minnesota does not use touch-screen e-voting machines, he said.

"Post-election audits currently being conducted have not indicated any optical scan counting problems," Aiken said.

While approximately 25,000 fewer ballots were cast in the Senate race than in the presidential race, he said, that so-called undervote was a very small drop-off of less than 1% of the votes cast.

That is not necessarily worrisome, he wrote. A "third-party U.S. Senate candidate received over 437,000 votes in the race," Aiken wrote. "Both Republican and [Democratic] U.S. Senate candidates received less votes than their [party's respective] presidential candidate. [It's] impossible to tell who the 24,000 undervotes chose for president."

County auditors will conduct the recount, which is mandatory because the results were so close. Post-election audits are to be completed by Nov. 18, while the full recount is expected to be completed by Dec. 19, according to Aiken.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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