Throughout the Minnesota Senate recount, as the absurd number of challenged ballots by both campaigns continues to obscure the real recount tally, the Al Franken campaign has made a point of releasing their own count of the ballots -- taking into account the opinions of election observers -- on press briefing conference calls. Per TPM, at the start of business yesterday that tally had Coleman up by 73 votes; by the end of business yesterday, that lead had shrunk to 50.
We won't know the actual status of the challenged ballots until the canvassing board meets on Dec. 16th to address them, but it looks like they may be evaluating far fewer challenged ballots than the campaigns have challenged up to this point. According to Minnesota Public Radio:
Both campaigns say they intend to withdraw some of their challenges over the next two weeks. All the remaining challenged ballots then have to go before the State Canvassing Board on Dec. 16, which will have to review and rule on them one by one.
To give you a sense of just how many of the challenges are frivolous, out of 1,000 challenged ballots, MPR found that more than 2/3 of them showed clear voter intent.
But with just 8% of votes left to be counted, will Franken be able to overcome a deficit even as small as 50 votes? Nate Silver's model gives a slight advantage to Coleman.
Thanks to a couple of developments being reported today, however, things might just be shifting in Franken's favor.
First of all, almost 200 uncounted ballots have been found in a precinct that Al Franken won.
Recount officials in Ramsey County found 171 ballots today that weren't counted on election night.
The county's Elections Manager Joe Mansky says an optical scan vote counting machine broke down in Maplewood during the initial count.
It was replaced, but local election judges didn't run some of the ballots through the new machine.
Franken beat Coleman in Ramsey County on election night by 52-34.
In addition, TPM is reporting that there may be reason for Franken to be optimistic regarding the issue of the rejected absentee ballots he's been trying to get counted.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has sent out a letter to local election officials telling them to separate out the rejected absentee ballots according to what reasons were used to discard them. This could be a sign that his office is taking seriously the Franken camp's contention that roughly 1,000 absentee ballots may have been wrongly thrown out by clerical errors, and should be re-admitted -- or he's just diligently preparing for the inevitable litigation over this matter.
Which points to the reality that even once all votes are counted and recounted, this thing may not be close to over; this Senate race is likely to go to the courts or even to the US Senate.
After a recount, the candidates or any eligible voter can head to court to challenge how the election was conducted or the votes were tallied. The Minnesota law spelling out the contest raises the possibility of Senate involvement.
"I don't think there is any possibility it will be simply a recount," said Hamline University law professor Joseph Daly. "It is destined for the courthouse and ultimately it is destined for the United States Senate based on this law. There's too much at stake. There's too much vitriol." [...]
Within 20 days of the initial filing, a trial is held. The court decides who received the most votes and is entitled to the certificate of election. The court can study evidence of election irregularities, but it can't issue findings or conclusions.
Once all appeals are exhausted, either party can ask that the information be forwarded to the presiding Senate officer.
From there, it's up to the Senate to decide how to proceed.
"Ultimately the Constitution gives the Senate the sole power to determine the qualifications of its members," Ritchie said. "In the end, there is no appeal if the Senate makes the decision."
Let's give Al a helping hand as the recount drags ever onward by giving to his campaign at our Road To 60 ActBlue page.
Update [2008-12-2 16:12:27 by Todd Beeton]:The Star Tribune is confirming that Al Franken netted 37 votes from the 171 uncounted Ramsey County ballots.
Democrat Al Franken made a net gain of 37 votes from the ballots, as he got 91 of the total, to 54 for Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and 26 for other candidates, including Dean Barkley of the Independence Party.
And as for the issue Team Coleman raised about more ballots than the number of voters in the precinct, sorry Norm, no luck. That's now been resolved.
Once those were counted, election officials found that there appeared to be 31 more ballots cast than the number of voters who signed in or voted by absentee ballot at Maplewood's Sixth Precinct, at the Hazelwood Fire Station. Shortly after, they said the explanation was that registration cards accompanying absentee ballots hadn't been recorded, as they should have been; when they were recorded, the number of voters and ballots matched.
In a race this close, this is a huge 1 day real vote gain. If Franken's 50-vote tally is correct, this now puts him within 13 votes of Coleman.