MN-Sen: Canvassing Board Will Rule On Rejected Absentees Tomorrow

Tomorrow, the Minnesota canvassing board will meet to determine the fate of the hundreds of absentee ballots that were wrongfully rejected, which, it's been estimated, may be as many as 500-1,000 ballots our of 12,000 cast. But The Pioneer Press today is indicating that number could in fact be far higher.

...an early look at the results of counties' sorting of rejected absentee ballots indicate those may be conservative numbers.

- Minneapolis rejected 610 ballots, 171 of which should have been counted. That's a wrongful rejection rate of 28 percent.

- Anoka County rejected 214 ballots, 25 of which were improperly rejected for a wrongful rejection rate of about 12 percent.

- And Dakota County, which has only sorted through about 60 percent of its rejected absentee ballots, has already found 110 that should have been counted in its stack of 849 ballots.

According to a Pioneer Press analysis of information from 12 counties, which have made progress in sorting their absentees and told the newspaper their results, 358 absentee ballots were improperly rejected out of 2,216. That's a wrongful rejection rate of 16 percent.

If there were 12,000 rejected absentee ballots statewide and 16 percent were improperly rejected, that would mean about 2,000 ballots should have been counted on Election Day but weren't.

Those are stunning numbers and could easily swing the election. And I agree with Eric Kleefeld:

It's the kind of big number that could increase the pressure on the state canvassing board to rule in favor of re-admitting those votes at tomorrow's much-anticipated meeting, rather than kick it to the courts.

But will they? Well, we'll find out tomorrow, but in the meantime, it certainly seems Team Franken is winning the message war. Yesterday they released a web video featuring interviews with several voters whose absentee ballots were wrongfully rejected. Watch it below and notice the repeated refrain: "we did everything right."

Now look at the opening paragraphs of the Pioneer Press article:

At least 358 Minnesotans did everything right on their absentee ballots -- they sent them in on time, signed them where they should have and were properly registered -- but their votes were not counted.

The Franken campaign has successfully framed this issue as a matter of fairness and enfranchisement and certainly seems to have given the canvassing board the political cover to vote to include them. And if they do, I'd really like to see the Coleman campaign try to argue it was wrong for them to do so.

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MN-Sen: Search For Missing Ballots Called Off

The drama of the Minnesota Senate recount continues...

Via TPM, The Star Tribune is reporting today that the search for those 133 ballots that went missing from a highly Democratic Minneapolis precinct has reportedly been called off.

City spokesman Matt Laible said today that officials had suspended the search for the ballots that began after they turned up missing in the waning hours of last week's U.S. Senate recount.

The matter will be turned over to the state Canvassing Board, which will decide whether the 133 will be officially counted, Laible said.

According to the original vote count, those ballots accounted for a 46 vote net gain for Al Franken and hence their exclusion from the count would mean a net loss of 46, which could be decisive in this close race. Luckily Minnesota does tend to err on the side of inclusion in electoral matters and so just because they can't be found for the recount doesn't necessarily mean they won't be counted.

More from Eric Kleefeld at TPM:

A state official just confirmed to Election Central that the state does have an option: Including the Election Night total instead for this particular precinct. [...]

Beth Fraser, the director of governmental affairs for the Secretary of State's office, said that there's actually a recent precedent for such a move, going back to a 2002 recount of a state legislative race that also had ballots missing from the recounted data set. "In that case, the state canvassing board gave each of the candidates the higher number of votes," said Fraser.

If the decision of the state canvassing board, which is scheduled to meet on Dec. 16th, ultimately does count those 133 ballots as originally tallied on Nov. 4th and Al Franken is declared the ultimate winner, this will no doubt provide fuel to the Coleman camp for a law suit. Let's face it, at this point, both sides should have law suits ready to go depending on the outcome, but as Nate notes, Franken has the high ground here since he is in the position of arguing for greater inclusion of ballots while a Coleman win really depends on their exclusion.

The good news for the Franken campaign is they are arguing in each case for more rather than fewer ballots to be counted, a stance which is probably superior from a public perception standpoint. It is hard to make a compelling case, for instance, that Franken should be punished because Minneapolis misplaced some of their ballots, or that he should be punished because some absentee ballots were rejected erroneously and never counted in the first place.

Update [2008-12-8 17:18:32 by Todd Beeton]:Interesting results from a new SurveyUSA poll of Minnesota RVs. On one hand it indicates that Norm Coleman is winning the PR war. On the question of approval of the way each campaign has handled the recount process, the Coleman campaign has +11 point net approval while the Franken campaign has -4. But on the other hand, on the question of whether rejected absentee ballots should be reviewed in the recount, something the Franken campaign has requested, 58% say Yes, 39% say No. And in a foreboding sign for whichever campaign ends up the loser once all ballots are counted and all challenges are reviewed, only 40% said the losing candidate should file a lawsuit while 55% said he should not.

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MN-Sen: 4 Votes

With the statewide hand recount over pending the retrieval of 133 missing ballots, the Franken campaign, in its daily recount press briefing, is claiming a lead of just 4 votes.

From TPM:

"We are not declaring victory -- we are moving into the next stage of the process," said Franken's lead recount lawyer Marc Elias, in a press briefing going on now with reporters. "But we are going into that ahead by four votes."

As Eric Kleefeld notes, this 4 vote lead has one big caveat attached to it:

The Franken camp's methodology involves taking down the opinions of the local election officials regarding the challenged ballots, and assuming that the local referees' calls will be upheld by the state canvassing board. As such, we are dependent on the Franken camp's numbers and assumptions.

That and the presumption that those missing ballots will be found. D-day for both of these events will be December 16th when the canvassing board meets.

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MN-Sen: Canvassing Board Likely To Extend Recount Deadline To Find Missing Ballots

After entertaining the possibility that the 133 missing ballots from the Minnesota recount were not missing at all but rather were actually just ballots that were mistakenly counted twice on election night, the state canvassing board is now acknowledging that there are indeed missing ballots that need to be found before the statewide recount can conclude.

From CNN:

A missing envelope containing about 130 ballots has stalled the recount in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.

The state canvassing board appeared likely to postpone its unofficial Friday deadline to finish the recount because of the missing ballots from the city of Minneapolis.

Because of the "extraordinary circumstances," said Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann, the city has until December 16 to locate the votes. The canvassing board is set to meet that day and take further action in the recount process.

"We won't meet our goal to have all ballots hand-counted by the end of the day [Friday] unless the envelope returns in the next 24 hours," Gelbmann said.

Minneapolis Elections Director Cindy Reichert said she's "not sure where [the missing envelope] would have gone" but that her staff is "in the process of looking under everything."

Appropriate, isn't it, that Franken's Senate bid should play out like a perfectly plotted movie script. Whoever buys the rights will have to get someone else to play Franken though; he'll be busy.

In the meantime, help Franken have the resources to get through this multi-part movie of the week over at the Road To 60 ActBlue page.

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MN-Sen: Franken Camp Says He's Ahead By 10 Votes

According to the Star Tribune website, as of this posting, with 99% of precincts recounted and only 2 counties left to finish, Al Franken trails Norm Coleman by 316 votes. The Franken campaign, as they have throughout this process, calls bullshit.

Via e-mail:

I wanted to share the latest news on the recount here in Minnesota: Our latest internal report has Al Franken leading Norm Coleman by 10 votes with some 56,000 ballots left to be included in the hand count.

Now, that number is going to change between now and the end of the recount - but we're confident that when all the votes have been counted, Al Franken will be the next Senator from Minnesota.

But ensuring that every vote is counted will require constant vigilance and a tough stance from our campaign. Already, we've seen ballots going missing, absentee votes improperly rejected, and the Coleman campaign attempting to game the system by challenging hundreds of extra ballots (which, by the way, is the reason some published reports falsely suggest Coleman is leading by several hundred votes).

The Franken campaign has done an excellent job of bringing some perspective to the reported recount numbers, in large part to counter Coleman's desired narrative that he's been ahead the whole time. If Franken is found to be the victor once the canvassing board rules on all the challenged ballots, Coleman wants to be able to call foul, claiming the board reversed the will of the people. This makes that more difficult.

One problem with this lead of 10 votes though: it doesn't take into account a whopping 133 ballots, which have apparently gone missing between the original count on election night and the recount. Those ballots are from Franken-friendly Minneapolis and favor Franken by a net of 46 votes.

From TPM:

The big catch, however, is that the campaign is not including the loss from those missing ballots in their tally for now, while election officials keep the recount in that precinct officially open in order to figure out what is going on. If that apparent loss is not undone, Al would suddenly be down by 36 votes under the campaign's counting method.

As of yesterday, the prevailing theory of the missing ballots was that they had actually been double counted on election night and so weren't actually missing at all. That theory appears to be breaking down. The Uptake counts the ballots:

1,047 voters signed in on the roster.
932 additional voters registered in person on Election Day.
35 absentee ballots were accepted in this precinct by the city.
15 absentee ballots were accepted in this precinct by the county.
TOTAL: 2,029 voters cast legal ballots (2,028 votes are recorded on the machine tape).
TODAY: 1,896 ballots were included in the recount.

The upshot, per Nate:

That is, a total of 2,029 voters either signed in on the registered voter roster in this precinct, registered in person on Election Day (Minnesota is one of the few states that allows you to do this), or sent in absentee ballots. This closely matches the 2,028 votes recorded in the precinct's November 4 count, but does not so closely match the 1,896 ballots that were identified in the recount today.

It looks more likely than not that 133 ballots have in fact gone missing; I have no idea what happens if they cannot be found.

This is a potential disaster in the making for Franken. In a race this close, the loss of 46 votes that those missing ballots represent could be the determining factor, which probably means this is even more likely to be taken to the courts and potentially even to the US Senate. Let's help Al stick through to the end over at the Road To 60 ActBlue page.

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