Todd blogged on this below with his thoughts, but I want to add some as well. It seems clear that Coleman is intent on having this go to the 5-person board with his having a lead. Right now, with 64% of the recount done, Coleman leads by 120 votes. The trend would indicate that Coleman winds up with a lead of less than 100 votes.
Again, I do not read that much into the challenge numbers themselves, as we don't have an overall indication as to which way the challenges are made: some are made by Coleman or Franken to challenge a vote to count and some are made by Coleman or Franken to challenge a vote to not count. ie, they are not all challenging of the others, some are challenges against the way the votes are counted in the recount. This becomes obvious while watching the video in Todd's post on which type of ballots the Coleman campaign is challenging-- some they don't want counted for Franken and some they want counted for Coleman.
But its very clear that some frivolous challenging is going on by Coleman in order for him to maintain his lead. In Ramsey County a few days ago, there's this:
One dustup came when Coleman observer Bob Murray questioned Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky on all the people jamming in the room as well as how ballot stacks were being counted. When Murray challenged a handful of ballots in which voters appeared to mark Franken clearly, Mansky said they were frivolous challenges, something state law prohibits.
Murray replied, "If you want to deal with them, you can take my determination to court."
Then from yesterday, in today's Star Tribune, Coleman is retracting his earlier statement that he would not challenge the results of the canvassing board.
Another 10 percent is expected to be counted by tonight, and the SoS Ritchie is saying the recount could be done prior to thanksgiving, making way for all of the challenges to go to the canvassing board. There are cases where the machine count does not match up with the hand count, in total ballots.
Now, I've been paying close attention to Ramsey County. After Thursdays count, commenting:
Looks like Ramsey county is Franken's friend. 31% in, and Franken gained 33 while Coleman lost 6, a net of 39 votes, and Franken having 6 challenges to Coleman's 2. If that trends out as is, Franken would gain about 88 more from this county, and have have about 12 additional challenges than Coleman. 100 more coming in from Ramsey would be very good news, but I wouldn't put much weight into there being a consistent trend yet.
However, Fridays results for Ramsey county showed there now being 47% counted, with Franken losing 10 and Coleman losing 45, for a net of 35 for Franken. That would appear to be a reversal of the trend, and the number of challenges show a new trend. Coleman went from having 2 challenges to having 62, and Franken went from having 8 challenges to having 53, all when only another 16 percent of the ballots were counted. Here's why:
Challenged ballots spiked in Ramsey County, where the county attorney's office squelched negotiations that had limited challenged ballots the first two days of the recount and observers from both campaigns questioned voters' intentions far more broadly than before.
Ramsey County Election Manager Joe Mansky, who had negotiated down challenged ballots Wednesday and Thursday with the campaigns, was told by Assistant County Attorney Darwin Lookingbill to "punt all the disputed ballots to the Canvassing Board. So that's what we will do," Mansky said.
Mansky said he thought both campaigns have instructed observers to issue challenges more widely.
So now, I expect that though Franken will likely whittle down the Coleman lead to less than 100 with the remaining 26% of the recount, we are going to see the 1,669 challenges to dramatically increase.
Mark Ritchie had predicted 1,500 challenged ballots, and Nate Silver had estimated roughly 1,800, both of which now seem too conservative. Chris Steller, 2500? Higher:
On Day Three of Minnesota's U.S. Senate recount, the Al Franken and Norm Coleman campaigns again increased the number of challenged ballots by more than 40 percent over the previous day. In fact, both campaigns increased their challenged-ballot total by 48 percent.
A division of less than 100 votes, with thousands of challenged votes remaining, is where we are headed, to the canvassing board.