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Commentary: Where Winners Win
By Bill Buzenberg
December 12, 2000
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There are no hanging chads in Minnesota, but as the Minge-Kennedy race makes clear, we do have some very close elections. Yet when elections are tight, the Minnesota experience is far different than events unfolding in Florida. Minnesota Public Radio's Bill Buzenberg has been watching the post-election contests in both states, and takes a look at how these two extremely close elections have been sorted out.

FIRST, THERE ARE SOME SIMILARITIES between the Bush - Gore battle in Florida, and the Kennedy - Minge contetst in Minnesota's 2nd District: On election night, both races were exceptionally close - less than a fraction of one percent separated the two sides. When the dust settled and the votes were first tabulated, the Republicans declared victory, and that victory was officially certified. But there were problems, too. There were charges of lost and mangled ballots and voting machines that didn't work. The losing Democrats filed lawsuits demanding recounts.

That's where the similarities end.

In Minnesota, the recount proceeded on an orderly basis, as spelled out by a clear state election law.

There were no mobs whipping up partisan passions. There were no massive spin campaigns, bashing courts and judges when they issued unfavorable rulings.

The tone in Minnesota was respectful; neither party launched the kind of bitter attacks seen in Florida. Neither side tried to make it seem that the other was stealing the election.

In Minnesota, recount and contest laws are clear, and administered by a secretary of state's office, which does not favor only one side. "Every election must have both integrity and accuracy. The process must be trustworthy ... Every valid vote must be counted," the office says.

That's what happened in the 2nd District. Disputed votes were counted carefully by hand. During the recount, Minge picked up 456 votes. Kennedy picked up 449 votes. Wright County District Judge Bruce Douglas oversaw the process; he was seen a fair by both sides. In the end, the intent of the voters was accepted in all but a few disputed ballots - not enough to change the outcome of the election.

Because this election really is over, Mark Kennedy is the new congressman, David Minge could conceed with dignity. When votes are facts, and the facts are carefully considered, no one questions the legitimacy of the outcome. What a contrast with Florida!

True, the deadlines have not been so severe in a congressional race as in a presidential contest, where delay was a legal game that benefited one side. But there was never any resort to the lawyers to try to block recounting of votes, or charging that recounting is so subjective the results couldn't be believed. In Minnesota, the will of the voters was the basis of victory.

Unlike Florida, the state legislature did not threatened to intervene and declare one-side the winner even before the final recount took place. Unlike Florida, Minnesota invests in chad-free election equipment, which does not disenfranchise large numbers of voters, minorities or non-minorities. The state role was fair. The recount procedures were clear. And the result is unquestioned. What a model for democracy versus the on-going tangle down south!

It's also clear that the behavior of candidates and their hired hands makes a big difference. Someone has to win and someone has to lose, and when the votes are exceedingly close, it makes the losing all that more difficult. But when the recount is fair to both sides, and all the votes are taken into account, the result is one everyone can live with. Graciously conceding , Cong. Minge could pay tribute to a democracy that works. Would that Florida were more like Minnesota. It even makes me wish that it had been the electoral votes in Minnesota that were at issue today, instead of those in Florida. Here, we have no doubts the results are fair, and that the winner won.

Bill Buzenberg is Minnesota Public Radio's Senior Vice President of News. Reach him via e-mail at