MN-Sen: Day 2 Of Challenged Ballot Review Underway

As the MN canvassing board met at 9:15am this morning for the second day of review of the challenged ballots in the Minnesota Senate recount, they had in the vicinity of 230 Franken challenges left to review before moving on to the 1,000 or so Coleman challenges (which Team Coleman actually increased by 200 or so late yesterday much to the canvassing board's dismay.)

As of this posting, the board has reviewed a total of 292 ballots, 171 of which have gone to Coleman, 41 of which have gone to Franken and 78 of which have gone to neither. This is a particularly bad result for Coleman considering the bulk of the ballots being reviewed are Franken challenges and thus more likely to go to Coleman than to Franken.

In what appears to be a real time tally, The Minneapolis Star Tribune currently has Coleman's lead at 313 votes but projects Franken to be ahead by the end of the canvassing board's review by 223 votes.

You can watch The Uptake's live feed of the canvassing board meeting below:

Update [2008-12-17 12:49:37 by Todd Beeton]:More in the diaries from Hoomai29 and Jeff Rosenberg.

Update [2008-12-17 13:48:19 by Todd Beeton]:At a press conference, MN SOS Mark Ritchie expressed his confidence that they are now working at the pace that they need to in order to be done by Friday night. He also hopes that more challenges will be withdrawn. The Star Tribune currently has Coleman's lead at 328. Their ballot challenge projection has Franken up by 244.

Update [2008-12-17 14:12:25 by Todd Beeton]:The MN Supreme Court is now hearing Norm Coleman's claim that the rejected absentee ballots should not be included. The canvassing board will reconvene at 2pm local time.

Update [2008-12-17 15:32:45 by Todd Beeton]:The canvassing board has returned to reviewing challenges. Watching the livestream is actually really interesting, especially since you can sort of play along at home. In the last 5 minutes, Franken has been on a roll having won several votes that were originally named overvotes but which the canvassing board has, I think rightfully, determined the will of the voters as in favor of Franken. After 344 ballots reviewed, Coleman has netted 194 votes and Franken has netted 51.

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StarTribune: 171 Vote Projected Franken Lead!

While the counting of challenged ballots continues and there is still the issue of the inappropriately uncounted absentee ballots to be resolved by the Minnesota Supreme Court, it is VERY encouraging to see that the current Minneapolis Star-Tribune estimate for the result of the challenged ballots projects Franken to come out of the resolved challenges with a 171 vote lead. This is a big enough lead that the US Senate would probably seat Franken, pending the outcome of the court challenges.

These projections WILL be changed somewhat by the recount board, but they should be pretty good ballpark projections for a final total (without any votes added because of the uncounted absentee ballots). The good news is that the Star Tribune projections are much more optimistic than the Franken camp's projections, which estimated that Franken was up 8 votes total if all challenged ballots were allocated per the decision of the County recount official who first judged them.

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MN-Sen: The Parallel Fight In The Courts

On this, the first day of the MN canvassing board's review of the two campaigns' ballot challenges, which TPM is reporting went rather well for Al Franken, it's worth noting the legal wrangling that continues on a parallel track.

On Friday, after the Minnesota canvassing board ruled unanimously to recommend that counties count absentee ballots that had been improperly rejected the first time around, Norm Coleman's campaign immediately announced it would challenge that decision to the MN Supreme Court.

Coleman campaign officials planned to file a request today for an order from the state Supreme Court requiring counties to follow consistent standards for counting their rejected absentee ballots. They said they hoped to have a decision by early next week.

"This is the kind of chaos the board has walked us into that we are trying to avoid," said Coleman attorney Tony Trimble.

Today, Franken recount lawyer Marc Elias called Coleman's move what it is: desperate:

"They are suing because they are behind," he said, noting that the Associated Press did an analysis this weekend in which they determined that Franken would likely win the election after all the challenged ballots were fettered out. "The numbers are what they are. And as I said Friday, desperate times call for desperate measures. What we see is a cynical and desperate attempt by the Coleman campaign to stop this train from moving.

In a mini-victory for Coleman today, the MN Supreme Court agreed to hear the case but rendered no decision. As Eric Kleefeld notes, it really doesn't seem likely that the Supreme Court will reverse the canvassing board's unanimous decision, especially since two of the people on that board are themselves MN State Supremes, but this on the face of it was a small victory for Coleman.

Franken in the meantime has filed suit in Olmstead County to make sure that 27 absentee ballots that were not rejected on any merits but rather were simply placed in the wrong pile (!) be counted.

Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Al Franken today filed suit in an Olmsted County district court over that county's decision to postpone the inclusion of a handful of absentee ballots in its recount totals , the latest in a string of legal maneuvers over the closely fought race.

While Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman has asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to clarify how counties should tabulate absentee votes that may have been mistakenly rejected prior to the Nov. 4 vote, the Franken campaign said the new suit is over a unique situation where election officials in Olmsted County accepted 27 absentee ballots, but then mistakenly placed them in the rejection pile.

"They just physically put them in the wrong place by accident," Franken campaign spokesman Andy Barr said.

Barr said the county delayed including the ballots in its totals and was going to forward the ballots to the state for a decision.

I'd be surprised if Coleman moves to stop this motion since he won Olmstead County by 9 points but you never know since his MO has been to disenfranchise as many voters as possible.

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MN-Sen: Minnesota Canvassing Board Meets To Review Ballot Challenges

Today at noon local time, the Minnesota state canvassing board gathered to begin the process of reviewing the ballots that were challenged by both campaigns. After a notoriously large number of ballots were originally challenged during phase 1 of the recount, both campaigns have removed thousands of ballots from their challenge lists leaving a total of just under 1,500 for the board to review.

Officials began removing from sealed manila envelopes the 436 ballots that the Franken campaign has decided to continue to challenge after withdrawing thousands of others. They plan to have those ballots separated and ready for review by the time the board convenes. [...]

The Coleman campaign withdrew 1,047 challenges Monday, leaving a total of just under 1,000 that will have to be reviewed by the board.

According to the Star Tribune, Coleman goes into this phase of the recount with a lead of 188 votes but that is likely deceiving. For as an unofficial  analysis by Star Tribune readers indicates, it's likely that Coleman in reality has no lead at all.

The Star Tribune has performed its own analysis of the challenged ballots by relying on a virtual "canvassing board" of more than 26,000 readers who examined at least some of them. There appeared to be widespread consensus that Franken won slightly more disputes than Coleman, enough to theoretically erase the incumbent's narrow lead by late Monday. [...]

According to the analysis, if all of the ballots on which challenges have been withdrawn were awarded to candidates as Ballot Challenge readers awarded them, Franken would hold a 361-vote lead heading into today's Canvassing Board meeting.

The Coleman campaign takes issue with this analysis, of course, calling it "unscientific" (duh) and the Star Tribune does not dispute that. Rather, it's relying here on the wisdom of crowds.

The Star Tribune analysis relies on readers who chose to respond to its Ballot Challenge on StarTribune.com, and there is no assurance that partisans didn't distort the results. But large numbers of respondents from around the nation participated, and each of 15 respondents who viewed the largest number of disputed ballots gave Franken the edge by 3 to 5 percentage points. There was a broader consensus as well. Only 200 of the 6,500 ballots failed to draw a consensus from at least 75 percent of reviewers. Among the others, reviewers decided slightly more in favor of Franken.

At the very least this analysis is yet another affront to Norm Coleman's attempt to frame himself as the election winner so that if the recount process does ultimately result in a Franken victory, Coleman can cry "liberal state canvassing board overturned the will of the people!" or some other fully predictable crap.

The canvassing board meeting is streaming live HERE. Watching? Follow along in the comments.

Update [2008-12-16 13:30:9 by Todd Beeton]:They just reviewed the first couple challenged ballots. The first one was one of Franken's challenges that was rejected, so that vote was restored to Coleman. The second ballot reviewed was interesting as it showed a vote for Barkley crossed out and then a vote for Franken. This ballot was originally considered an overvote, which Franken challenged. Democratic SOS Mark Ritchie moved to reject the challenge (and go with the original judgment of the election official) which was rejected by the rest of the board, stating that it was "clearly a Franken vote." This is what people mean when they talk about the liberal voter intent laws in Minnesota. I have to say watching this is pretty fascinating.

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MN-Sen: Canvassing Board Rules To Count Missing Ballots AND Rejected Absentees

In a huge boost to Al Franken's Senate hopes, the Minnesota canvassing board has ruled just this morning to restore the original election night count of the 133 missing ballots from a Minneapolis precinct and that absentee ballots that were rejected due to clerical error (as opposed to voter error) should be included in the recount.

The former decision is important because it means that Franken will avoid a loss of 46 votes but it's the the absentee ballot decision that is the real victory for Franken. It's estimated that there may be between 1-2k absentee ballots that were improperly rejected. These votes were never counted in the original election night tally and it's likely that once counted, they will go for Franken by a large margin. It should be noted, however, that the canvassing board is merely requesting that the County election officials throughout the state count these ballots, they do not have the authority to demand it.

From The Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Moments later, the five-member state Canvassing Board voted unanimously to ask election officials in all 87 counties to count the improperly rejected ballots. However, the board members stressed that they only have the authority to make a recommendation.

The board was told this morning that 49 counties have examined 4,823 rejected absentee ballots and 638 of those were determined by local officials to have been wrongfully rejected.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann also reported that if that trend holds -- with more than 13 percent of the rejected absentee ballots tossed improperly -- there would end up being nearly 1,600 wrongfully set aside.

Eric Kleefeld is optimistic that if all of these ballots are indeed added to the count, that Franken will likely come out the victor.

...it seems very likely that the vast majority of these ballots will be counted before this is over -- and it could possibly seal the deal for Franken. Pre-election polling showed him winning the overall pool of absentee ballots by a solid margin, so it seems pretty reasonable to assume that the newly-counted votes will break for Al. If that proves to be correct -- and if Norm Coleman is unable to stop it through further litigation -- Franken will probably pull ahead of Coleman and win the election.

Certainly mathematically this appears to be the case but who knows what litigation Team Coleman has up their sleeves and what twists and turns this recount has yet to take.

Next up, the canvassing board meets Tuesday to begin reviewing the campaigns' challenged ballots. As of right now, between the two campaigns, 4,472 ballots have been challenged. The canvassing board is hoping that both campaigns will withdraw thousands more frivolously challenged ballots in the hope of cutting down on the time it will take to review them (as a point of reference, they anticipate the review of 1,000 or so challenged ballots will take 4 days.)

Update [2008-12-12 13:16:27 by Todd Beeton]:Via e-mail from the Franken campaign:

This is a huge win for us, because our position has always been the simple principle that every lawful vote should be counted. But there are still a lot of steps left ahead in this process, and the Coleman campaign is likely to bring a whole lot of political and legal muscle to re-double their efforts to stop the count.

We won't let them - but we need your help. Your contribution of $25, $50, $100, or more will enable us to stand up for voters who did everything right but whose ballots were improperly thrown out.

You know what to do.

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