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Canvassing Board inspires confidence

Another chapter in the long, complex U.S. Senate recount story is set to wrap up today. The State Canvassing Board will meet this morning to settle a few discrepancies emanating from challenges by either DFLer Al Franken or Republican Norm Coleman to the disposition of ballots recounted between Nov. 19 and Dec. 5. That should conclude the Canvassing Board's challenged- ballot phase of these protracted proceedings.

Several more chapters remain to be written. A crucial one is unfolding across the state this week as wrongly rejected absentee ballots are identified by county election administrators and offered for inclusion in the recount. The state Supreme Court ruled that if both the Franken and Coleman campaigns agree that a ballot was rejected by mistake, it may be added to the count.

That "if" contains the potential for prolonged dispute. On Monday, the Franken campaign was quick to take the local officials' word for mistakes on 1,346 rejected absentee ballots, while representatives for Coleman said they were engaged in their own review, and talked about adding as many as 200 more to the local officials' count.

Both campaigns should recognize that the judgments of local election officials carry much weight in the court of public opinion, and likely will in any court of law as well. In most human endeavors, people who own up to mistakes and can correct them are allowed to do so. That opportunity should not be denied to people who do some of democracy's most essential work.

Even more important to democracy is this principle: Every legitimately cast vote should be counted. A candidate who appears to be subverting that principle will only do himself harm.

The judgments of the State Canvassing Board to date are also due a heaping measure of citizen confidence. The five-member board's orderly, transparent and efficient dispatch of 6,655 challenged ballots has served this state well.

All of the major decisions and most minor ones by the Canvassing Board thus far have been unanimous. That unity has shored up the board's credibility and minimized partisan second-guessing. It also ought to deter any frivolous legal challenge to their work. The four jurists on the board have acknowledged from the start that the board's authority is limited, and some recount disputes can only be settled via a judicial proceeding. But the professional manner with which the board has acted to date has narrowed the grounds for possible litigation.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who heads the Canvassing Board, vowed as the recount began that accuracy and transparency, not haste, would be paramount in the effort. Thus far, he's made good on that promise. The recount may be trying the patience of Minnesotans who wish they could flip to the final chapter and know now how this saga ends. But the Canvassing Board's good work has made it more likely that when the end comes, it will be accepted as fair. -- Minneapolis Star Tribune

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