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Uncharacteristically feverish rhetoric from Minnesota

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Thomas Ash built openDemocracy's site, and now runs PhilosoFiles

Tempers are flaring in Minnesota, a state that has long prided itself on what its residents call 'Minnesota nice' (for an amusing portrayal of this style of behaviour, look no further than Fargo, perhaps the best film the Coen brothers have made to date). The pyrogen is the still unsettled Senate race between incumbent Norm Coleman and his Democratic challenger, Al Franken. As of today, Coleman is only 215 votes in the lead. Yesterday, Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com projected - with startlingly confident precision - that Franken would manage to push 27 votes into the lead by the end of the recount.

With the margins that small, the one thing we can be sure of is that the eventual victor - whoever he may be - will have a hard time convincing his opponents that he won fair and square. For a taster of what is to come, take a look at politico.com's latest article on the subject. It is an extremely biased piece of work entitled 'Sloppy Dems may spell Franken advantage' (the title alone cries out for the attention of an editor). It relies heavily on the opinions of a "veteran Minnesota election law attorney" named Robert Hentges, who has this to say:

“Democrats are [thought to be] more creative, free-spirited, so the idea is that they’re more likely to make a mistake that the optical scan won’t pick up. But when they recount the hard copy, those votes will be counted for Franken. If you talk to Republicans, they say it will be Franken’s advantage, because Democrats are stupid and will screw up ballots more often.”

Since the Politico reporter seems to take Hentges' suggestions at face value, it's a fair bet that this meme will have legs. Of course, many Minnesota Democrats are poorer than the average citizen, and so often have to deal with longer lines to vote, and less reliable equipment when they do. But that was also true in Florida eight years ago, and didn't stop Republicans from labelling Al Gore's supporters as undereducated African-Americans and senile old fools. The suggestion was, of course, that these voters didn't really deserve their votes in the first place. Expect to hear more of that if Franken manages a victory.

Update: It turns out that the headline of the Politico piece genuinely was in need of some editing. I e-mailed the author, Daniel Libit, with my concerns, and he agreed that the piece's title - which he didn't choose - was inappropriate. It has now changed to 'Franken hopes may turn on absentee issue', which is decidedly more neutral.


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