Spinplications of Recount News

black-holeToday, Al Franken pulled ahead in the U.S. Senate recount. A couple dozen steps still need to play out before we have a winner, but this is a milestone. After all, Franken has been behind in the media counts for weeks.

We at SRC are not recount experts, but we are spin savants. So let us ponder the milestone’s spinplications. For weeks, Senator Coleman has been vigorously arguing against counting illegally excluded absentee ballots, judicial involvement and the recount in general. Now that he’s behind, he assumably will be forced to attempt the most difficult PR move known to man, the dreaded Reverse Spin.

The Reverse Spin requires one to completely unsell that which he or she has aggressively sold. With a complete straight face, Senator Coleman will have to Reverse Spin from “it would be a crime to burden the taxpayers with a recount!” to “common decency demands that every vote must be counted, no matter the duration or expense!” From “absentee ballots must never be counted!” to “the future of our democracy depends on absentee ballots being counted!” From “we must keep the lawyers out of this at all costs!” to “let’s remove this from the filthy political arena and resolve this in a fair, impartial court of law!”

And it could get even more interesting. If subsequent phases of the recount lead the Senator to retake the lead in the media counts, he may need to attempt the never before executed Double Reverse Spin. The DRS calls for the spinner to return to the original positions he took before he RS-ed out of them. Astro physicists have long postulated that a successful DRS could lead to the creation of a black hole and End Times, leaving the recount forever in doubt.

– Loveland

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Election System Enema

ballotBy national standards, Minnesota has a very good election system. And for all our griping about the U.S. Senate recount, this recount will serve to make our elections even better.

First, over the years well-meaning but misinformed election judges apparently have been rejecting legal absentee ballots, inadvertantly disenfranchising thousands of Minnesotans in the process. We learned this when the recount uncovered over 1,600 absentee ballots that were rejected for no valid legal reason. The recount is serving as an seminar for election judges on this issue. Also, I would imagine absentee ballots will be redesigned by policymakers to make them easier to fill out correctly.

Second, we’re identifying technological weak links, such as the outdated Eagle scanning equipment in St. Louis County, which, the recount revealed, had been error prone. The embarrassing publicity around that should lead to those machines being replaced.

Third, we’re clarifying standards for ruling on ambiguous ballots. The work the State Canvassing Board and the State Supreme Court will be doing in the coming days clarifying standards will be instructive to election judges statewide, and make future counts more accurate. It also will give us an improved roadmap for the next statewide recount.

Finally, we’re identifying dumb laws. For instance, based on an outstanding AP analysis released yesterday it looks like a significant number of ballots will be rejected because voters made an identifying mark on them, such as an initial or signature. That law apparently has roots from the days when party bosses were selling votes, and were using signed ballots as a proof-of-purchase.

These voters are being disenfranchised, and I’d be surprised if a single one is involved in a vote scanning scheme. If they are, the identifying mark would seem to make it easier to catch the scoundrels. I imagine many made their mark out of some sense of ballot security, to ensure their ballot was not lost or destroyed. Others may have been simply doodling. Others perhaps assumed that they should sign this official document, just as they sign almost every other official document they encounter.

But I suppose there is an outside chance that someone is running a vote-selling scheme. So if there are an unusual number of signed ballots in a particular jurisdiction, election judges should still have the ability to call for an investigation to see if there is a vote auction happening. But voters should have a presumption of innocence.

Before the next election, one of the best election systems in the nation will have significantly better technology, standards and laws. Call it an election system enema, something that only happens when we stumble through a historically close recount where every vote REALLY matters. It’s been an unpleasant procedure, but here’s hoping it is, ultimately, a cleansing one.

– Loveland

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The Importance of The Right Messenger

Most of the public relations around the U.S. Senate recount has come in the form of dueling flack attacks. The Franken campaign has been at least as over-the-top as the Coleman campaign, including its gratuitous mention in today’s recount briefing of the Kazeminy-Coleman FBI investigation. (Holy kitchen sink strategy, what does Kazeminy have to do with the recount??)

But I have to say the Franken campaign did some kick ass communications work yesterday when it released this video of voters who allegedly had their absentee ballots rejected illegally.

Whatever you think about the substance of the issue, this shows the importance of using the most sympathetic available messenger. When Franken’s lawyers make a legal argument about these ballots, eyes roll. But when average Minnesotans tell their personal stories around the very same issue, more eyes are opened.

Instead of using legal abstractions, this tactic uses human reactions. Instead of coming from courtrooms, it comes from livingrooms. Instead of using spreadsheets, it uses stories. Instead of coming from the head, it comes from the heart.

The messenger is the message. This is what good communications work looks like.

– Loveland

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Franken Sense and Blur

Where's the Franken viewpoint? (Source: startribune.com).
The outlook of the Minnesota U.S. Senate election recount is obviously blurry. The source of much of the confusion is related to how challenged ballots should be characterized during the period before the State Canvassing Board rules on them.

FRANKEN VIEWPOINT. The Franken campaign says their count now shows them 22 votes ahead of Senator Coleman. They say that count assumes that the call the local election judge(s) originally made for each challenged ballot will be upheld by the Canvassing Board. For instance, even if a local election judge originally called a ballot a Coleman vote, and the Franken campaign has challenged that local judge’s original ruling, the Frankenistas’ count reportedly assumes that vote will end up as a Coleman vote.

COLEMAN/MEDIA VIEWPOINT. The Coleman campaign and the major media outlets are counting challenged votes differently. They are using raw data released by the Secretary of State’s office. These data are the most “official” data available, but their use effectively assumes that every challenge will be upheld by the State Canvassing Board. This is certainly a debatable assumption. By this count, the major media outlets and the Coleman campaign show Coleman with a lead of over 300 votes.

Putting aside for a moment the issues of which counting assumption is more reasonable and how the rejected absentee ballots play into all of this, I’ve been surprised and disappointed the Franken campaign’s interpretation of the count has often not been reported by reporters. I’ve seen the Franken count and arguments on liberal blogs, analytical blogs, and Franken campaign emails, but not in many mainstream news stories.

Including the Franken claims makes mainstream news stories more murky, and reporters, for very good reason, strive to give their consumers clarity and certainty. But in this case, the reality is much more blurry than the daily count released by the news media leads the public to believe. Reporters should characterize the Franken count as a “claim,” “contention” or “assertion,” because it can’t currently be verified, but it deserves to be included in the reporting, so Minnesotans are aware of both sides’ viewpoints and rationale.

– Loveland

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Normy the Beer Man?

In the marketing world, it’s called extending the campaign. You take a message delivered at a 50,000 foot level, usually via broadcast ads, and then employ PR tactics that bring that message down-to-earth, where the target audience can touch, feel and experience it.

Or even get a buzz off of it.

Steve Novick, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Oregon, is running one of the most intriguing political marketing campaigns of this election cycle. Ok, so there isn’t a lot of competition, but it’s still a fun one. We earlier featured an ad that used an innovative beer opening technique to hook voters. Now Novick is extending that campaign, by running on that most popular of campaign promises, free beer.


Actually, it’s not so free — ten bucks a bottle. And if this guy can win on a promise of $10/bottle beer, he’s a heckuva politician.

If this political fad hits Minnesota, one wonders what the likes of Al Franken, Tim Palwenty, Norm Coleman, Jim Oberstar, Michelle Bachmann, Ole Savior and other Minnesota politicians will name their signature steam, porter, wheat, stout, ale, lambic or lager?

– Loveland

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