At a recent hearing over the Senate vote recount in his state, Justice Paul Anderson of the Minnesota Supreme Court apparently took umbrage when an attorney suggested that the prolonged dispute was turning into a debacle along the lines of the Florida presidential vote in 2000. "This is not Florida," harrumphed the judge. "This is Minnesota." No kidding?
Let there be no mistaking one for the other. It would be like comparing frozen tundra with a sandy beach, a gopher with a flamingo, the Northern Lights with the delights of South Beach. We could go on, but why rub it in? Well, maybe just one more: On Tuesday, the noon temperature in these climes was a balmy 74 degrees, compared to six below zero in Minneapolis. Ouch! No wonder the judge gave the attorney such an icy reply.
But seriously, Your Honor — not like Florida when it comes to ballot meltdowns? Maybe we're more alike than you'd like to think.
• We had "hanging chads"; you have "Irabs," the term for "improperly rejected absentee ballots," 1,500 of which remain at the heart of the recount dispute. We say chads; you say Irabs. Either way, they're contested votes.
• In the U.S. Supreme Court filing challenging the Florida recount, a Republican brief hammered the Florida Supreme Court for issuing a "crazy-quilt ruling that created chaotic conditions" in a hastily devised recount. In Minnesota, attorney Roger Magnuson suggested that if all 87 Minnesota counties were to begin counting the Irabs, a "crazy quilt" of local standards would be applied. Magnuson, who represents Sen. Norm Coleman, is getting pretty good at this. He represented the Florida Legislature during the 2000 recount.
• In Florida, the recount went on until the Dec. 12 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that decided the issue in favor of George W. Bush. In Minnesota, it's past Christmas, and still there is no decision. It took a long time to figure out who won Florida's 2000 election, but it's taking Minnesotans longer to sort theirs out. They should be glad the only thing hanging in the balance is who's going to represent Minnesota in the Senate — not who's going to lead the country.
The point is that Florida is not alone when it comes to having a vote-counting process that can fail to render a quick and decisive outcome. Sure, we've had to live down Flori-DUH, but now that Minneso-DUH is becoming the standard for dysfunctional voting models, the issue is pretty clear. The combination of parochial voting rules and imperfect ballot machines is a recipe for an electoral debacle when the decision comes down to a few hundred votes. It can happen anywhere. Even in Minnesota.