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October 21, 2019

Contested Ballots: You Be the Judge

Representatives from both Norm Coleman and Al Franken’s campaigns challenged ballots from across the state during the Minnesota Senate recount in 2008. Every single vote for the U.S. Senate candidate was recounted by hand for a total of almost three million ballots. The recount process was challenging, as many ballots were unclear. Recount officials had to examine these ballots, and with Minnesota state law as a reference, decide first whether or not the ballots were valid and then which candidate the voters were intending to select. The following suggestions offer students opportunities to learn more about how ballots are counted, not only in Minnesota, but in their own state.

In this activity, students have the same opportunity to become recount officials, determining how each ballot should be counted, or not, under state law. Minnesota Public Radio has assembled approximately 50 ballots online that were challenged during the 2008 Minnesota Senate recount. Students must examine the ballot, use the provided Minnesota state law to determine how it should be counted, and vote accordingly. Upon voting, students may see poll results, and compare their vote to all of the votes received.

Required materials:

Contested Ballots from Minnesota Public Radio

Look up recount laws in your state

Additional Activities:

  1. Students could research ballot counting and election recount laws in their state. What mechanisms are in place to ensure that ballots are counted accurately and fairly? Are the laws in place adequate? Students might write op-eds explaining why or why not. If laws are not adequate, students might write new laws for their state, or work with lawmakers to develop new laws.

  2. Students might research recent and historic election recounts in U.S. history or their own state’s history. How did laws govern or courts influence the recount process? Did the process seem fair? Why or why not? Students could present their findings in a classroom museum exhibit about the courts and election recounts.