Down for the Recount

Expert advice for Harry Reid and Sharron Angle should their dogfight drag on

As the neck-and-neck race continues between U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and Republican Sharron Angle, not everyone is pulling for red versus blue, north versus south, or the Tea Party insurgency versus the incumbents. Jay Weiner, who is watching the race from his home in Minnesota, is actually hoping it’s too close to call.

“I’m probably the only person in America that’s hoping for a million recounts,” he says. “I’m trying to sell books.”

Weiner is the author of This Is Not Florida: How Al Franken Won the Minnesota Senate Recount, published in September by University of Minnesota Press, which details the behind-the-scenes process of Minnesota’s 2008 U.S. Senate race between Democrat Al Franken and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. Although Coleman appeared to win on election night by 215 votes, a lengthy legal battle went on to give the victory to Franken by a margin of 312 votes. Franken was sworn in eight months after the election. It was the longest and most expensive recount in American history.

Citing the significance of the Nevada race between the Tea Party candidate and the Senate majority leader, Weiner predicts that it may not end on election night. “The Reid-Angle race will be the target one for the biggest and most experienced recount lawyers and technicians, because it stands for so much, really,” he says.

Weiner says both sides are probably already getting their lawyers and funding in place in case a recount is needed. As such he shared the following predictions and recommendations for what the two candidates might do if it isn’t over until it’s over:

• Scrutinize the absentee ballots. The absentee ballots in an election like this are critical. They were critical in Minnesota, and they were critical in the Washington state gubernatorial recount of 2004-2005, he says.

• Candidates will likely plan their recount messages ahead of time. When they’re behind in the recount, they should say, “The electoral process is a slow, unexacting process. Let’s let it play out, and let the election officials do their jobs.” If they’re ahead, they shouldn’t assume they are going to win. A more effective message is something like, “We’re ahead now, and we’re very confident that we’re going to stay ahead. But based on the experiences in Washington state and Minnesota, we’re going to make sure that we’re treated fairly,” he says. Assuming victory can come back to haunt you, he says.

• Candidates should be wary of hogging the camera, he says. It’s better for them to stay out of the picture once the recount starts. Franken stayed out of the way and let the lawyers and technicians and data folks handle the recounts and came off a little more senatorial, even thought he wasn’t a senator, he says. Coleman was more available and looked as if he really didn’t have anything to do.

• Post-election messages should be similarly planned out. Whoever wins will have to be humble because they won by the narrowest of margins. The loser should be a gracious, because no one likes a sore loser and, generally speaking, these people run for office again. Take note, candidates, because Weiner suggests the following: “The system has worked. We should be proud of our state.”

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