By Don Davis
Minnesotans may not want to hear the word, but it needs to be said: recount.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said that his office is ready to count ballots a second time if needed, as has been the case in recent Supreme Court justice, U.S. Senate and governor races. The secretary has appointed the state Canvassing Board to officially declare victors from Tuesday’s election and to oversee any recount.
No one may be predicting a recount, but there are some races expected to be close. Take, for instance, northern and north-central Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District. Pretty much all nonpartisan political observers say the contest is too close to call, which means the vote could end up nearly tied.
And maybe even more likely, there are about a dozen state House races that insiders say will be very close. And with Republicans needing just a net of seven more seats to take control from Democrats, these will be very closely watched.
Of course Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sen. Al Franken experienced recounts when they won, and both say they are running like they are tied (even though polls give a lead to each of them).
Ritchie said that the canvassing board he leads would decide any races that cross county lines. Many House districts in heavily populated areas fall in a single county, so county officials would handle those recounts, but most rural districts take in parts of more than one county.
Do mail ballots predict?
Early ballots, still officially known as absentee, were allowed to be cast for the first time this year without an excuse such as the voter would be away from home on Election Day.
Thousands are casting those early votes, but it is impossible at this point to say if they are adding to the number of people voting or if they mostly are people who would vote anyway.
There is some evidence they could add to the total number of voters if mail-in ballots used in about 600 of Minnesota’s 4,102 precincts are an indication.
Kittson County officials were leaders years ago in an effort to allow mail ballots, a concept strongly opposed at the time.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said that as Kittson voters aged, turnout dropped from 90 percent to 60 percent.
“They have blizzards on the Canadian border,” Ritchie said of one reason for the change.
Once mail ballots were allowed, turnout returned to 90 percent.
Studies of western states, Ritchie said, indicate that mail voting, similar to Minnesota’s new early voting, gradually increased turnout. At first, local government officials often use cost savings as a reason to allow mail votes. Eventually, Richie added, voters like the idea because it is easier to research candidates and issues when they have ballots in their homes.
On the downside of mail voting, he said, “there is this sticker element to it.” In other words, many voters like to wear “I voted” stickers.
One factor that may be boosting early voting, Ritchie said, is that many people say they did not want to check an absentee application box indicating that they were disabled or did not want to lie about why they wanted to vote absentee.
‘Keep coal moving’
Four Minnesota political leaders have asked a key federal commission to force BNSF Railway Co. to deliver coal to power plants.
Democratic U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and Gov. Mark Dayton wrote a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asking it to force BNSF to improve coal delivery to electric utilities.
“Utilities in our state are restricting the operation of coal-fired plants for the sole reason of conserving existing coal stockpiles, stockpiles that have grown dangerously low due to BNSF’s ongoing delivery problems,” the four wrote. “BNSF’s service failures are driving up the cost of electricity and pose significant threats to electric system reliability.”
BNSF and other railroads have come under fire for not delivering freight to many industries, including farmers, because they put a higher priority on making more profit shipping North Dakota crude oil. The railroads deny they give oil a priority.
Klobuchar likes Iowa
Any politician who visits Iowa often is thought to be a presidential hopeful.
So when Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register reported that U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said she “feels very comfortable in Iowa,” the next thought in any political observer’s mind was that she wants the White House.
Indeed, many observers say Klobuchar likely will enter the race if Hillary Clinton opts out of the 2016 presidential contest.
When she was in Iowa for a major speech, she repeated her support of Clinton.
The Register went on: “Then Klobuchar gushed about Iowa. ‘I come down here because people invite me to come down here, because our states have so much in common and I’ve gotten to know a lot of the elected officials down here. I like being down here. … I feel at home here. Maybe people from other states don’t feel at home here. I feel at home here.'”
In her speech, she called others who spoke at the event — such as Barack Obama, Joe Biden and John Kerry — “My warmup acts.”
Klobuchar is a popular speaker at Democratic functions around the country.