There are two things occurring in Minnesota right now which also occurred in Florida in the 2000 presidential election:
1) There is an extremely close vote.
2) There are a number of ballots which are ambiguous.
Both of these things are unavoidable. Close elections will happen from time to time and it should be assumed that they will happen again. Humans, being fallible creatures, will always find ways to screw up even something as simple as filling in a dot on a sheet of paper.
For 99.9% of all elections (if you include elections at every level) the number of screwed up ballots doesn’t matter because the margin of victory is much greater than the number of ambiguous ballots. How they are counted will have no effect on the outcome.
In that 0.1% of elections where it does matter, it can cause problems. You get into issues like hanging chads and “voter intent”. I think having any group of people trying to determine voter intent is a very dangerous thing. If the voter wasn’t clear, then they expressed no clear intent.
The way out of this is easy and should be adopted at all levels of government:
Accept that there will always be a small level of error in any voting system. In the MN senate election, approximately 2,400,000 votes were cast and 5,300 have been called into question. That is 0.22% of the votes. I’m sure a more thorough study could determine what a reasonable number is.
If any election is within that margin of error (lets say 0.5%), have a runoff between the candidates in an election which would happen 1 month later.
In the case of Florida, they would have had a special election one month later between Bush and Gore, with no Ralph Nader. In MN, they would have another election with no Dean Barkley.
Odds are, even if the election is close again, which you would expect it to be, it wouldn’t be as close as it was in the previous election. The ballot would be cleaner, there would be more attention paid to the race, and other candidates would be eliminated.
While it is possible to have yet another extremely close ballot count in the second election, it is unlikely. If it did happen, the recount would be much easier on a ballot with only two choices.