A lot of the venal sins of Congress could be judged pornographic, both politically and otherwise, but we’ve never had an Official Senate Pornographer before. Sen. Chuck Schumer says Al Franken will fit right in.
“With the Minnesota recount complete,” he says, gleefully, “it is now clear that Al Franken won the election.” Actually, it isn’t clear at all, as Mr. Schumer well knows, even though the Democrats managing the recount declared Mr. Franken the winner yesterday. The Democrats in the Senate are eager to get Al seated quickly because once he’s seated among equals a bum is difficult to throw out. There’s honor among senators, similar to the honor among thieves. (The difference is that thieves often hold to higher standards.)
We’ve had ersatz senators before this, men and women who claimed their seats through fraud, trickery and artifice. Few of the Republican senators “elected” from the South during Reconstruction even pretended to be legitimate; being a Democrat in Dixie was all but against the law in the aftermath of the Civil War.
Lyndon Johnson arrived in the Senate on the strength of 87 votes likely stolen in a 1948 recount and became forever “Landslide Lyndon,” usually behind his back and much to his chagrin and irritation. Woody Jenkins probably beat Mary Landrieu in Louisiana in 1996, but she was seated on the strength of a few hundred hotly disputed ballots, Louisiana’s reputation for high-church ethics and election-day decorum, and the willingness of the majority of senators eager to see no evil (but often speaking evil).
The post-election campaign in Minnesota to deprive Norman Coleman of his seat is remarkable for the way it was done in broad daylight, with everyone watching in a way not possible before the 24/7 glare of modern media.
The Minnesota secretary of state, Mark Ritchie, presided over the recount and it became clear quickly that the Democrats would do whatever was necessary to count Mr. Coleman out, stopping just short of borrowing votes from neighboring Wisconsin and Iowa. He was behind by 215 votes when the official counting stopped, and finished ahead by 225 votes when the recount was concluded. Nearly every dispute over procedure, evidence and judgment was resolved in Al’s favor.
Nice work if you can get it. Kim Jong-il and Robert Mugabe should have dispatched their election officials to St. Paul for lessons (and maybe they did).
One member of the canvassing board, state Supreme Court Justice Barry Anderson, concedes that some ballots were likely counted twice, but he says there’s not much anybody can do about it. In more than 25 precincts officials counted more ballots than voters; presumably we can put this down to the enthusiasm of high-minded Minnesotans to vote as often as they can. Everyone has a duty to vote, so who can scold a man or woman for going above and beyond the call of duty? Isn’t that why Congress awards the Medal of Honor?
If Emerson was right, that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, the minds of the Democratic canvassers are big and wide, indeed. Officials in one precinct in Hennepin County lost 133 actual ballots during the recount; never mind, they decided, we’ll just go with the election-night count. This gave Al 46 extra votes.
But in a Ramsey County precinct, canvassers found more ballots in the recount than precinct judges counted on election night. Oh, good, the canvassers concluded; we’ll ignore election night and count the extra ballots. Al got an extra 37 votes. When it was time to count absentee ballots - nearly always the devil’s favorite item in the details - and Al was still in the hole, the secretary of state insisted on counting enough ballots that had been set aside for reexamination to put Al up 176 votes.
Unless Mr. Coleman, who leans to the good-loser wing of the Republican Party, gets a case of cold feet the Great Minnesota Ballot Box Raid goes next to the courts, first to St. Paul and maybe eventually to Washington. That’s why Mr. Schumer and his merry gang of enablers are eager to seat Al before the ink is dry on the recount.
“Minnesotans like to think that their state isn’t like New Jersey or Louisiana,” observes the Wall Street Journal, “and typically it isn’t.”
Well, maybe. But any Minnesotan who thinks that owes Tony Soprano and Carlos Marcello an apology. The Mafia hasn’t stolen an election this brazenly since Sam Giancana bought Illinois for John F. Kennedy a half-century ago.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.