Road To 60: MN-Sen Recount Update

As of this posting, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune website, with 84% precincts recounted, Franken has lost 1,191 votes while Coleman has lost 1,189 votes. So, by this measure alone, Coleman has expanded his lead by 2 votes.

This is complicated, of course, by the challenged ballot factor (for which Nate Silver provides a helpful primer HERE.) So far, Team Coleman has challenged 1,600 Franken votes and Franken has challenged 1,557 of Coleman's. The mystery is how many of these votes will be added to each candidate's final tally once the canvassing board rules on them. On Sunday, Nate Silver projected a Franken win by 27 votes, largely due to the assumption that significantly more challenged Franken ballots will end up as valid Franken votes than will be the case for Coleman. Indeed, as Nate observed, on a precinct by precinct basis:

...the fewer the number of challenged ballots, the better Franken is doing, and the higher the number of challenged ballots, the worse he is doing; the relationship is in fact quite strong.

It is not an accident, then, that as the number of challenges has increased with each day of the recount, Franken's momentum appears to have stalled out. Very probably, a majority of the challenges are coming from Franken's pile. This is somewhat irrespective of which campaign actually instigates the challenge, since as we suggested yesterday, a potential Franken undervote could be the subject of a challenge from either campaign depending on the initial ruling of the local elections judge.

One theory as to the vastly increasing number of challenges, especially from the Coleman team, is that they are purposely challenging clearly valid Franken votes to create the illusion of a race that is closer than it actually is. To push back on this, the Al Franken campaign is insisting that Coleman's true lead is 84 votes.

"The differential between the two candidates is 84 votes," lead Franken recount lawyer Marc Elias just told a press briefing. "That obviously is down from the starting point of 215."

The public numbers from the Star Tribune currently show Coleman ahead by 210 votes, with 77% of the total ballots recounted. But the Franken campaign points to an obvious flaw in those numbers: All challenged ballots, regardless of the merits of the challenges, are taken out of the count for now until the state canvassing board can make a final ruling.

The Franken camp, however, says its observers have taken down what the opinions were of the on-site election judges, and get their number by assuming that the local officials' calls will ultimately be upheld.

It's also possible that some of the wrongly rejected absentee ballots -- many of which Franken has found should have been counted for him -- may ultimately be included in the recount. There have been at least 6,400 absentee ballots rejected statewide. The hearing on that is tomorrow.

Another point of concern for the Franken camp: a number of ballots that have just plain gone missing.

Al Franken's campaign is contending that Minnesota election officials may have lost several dozen ballots across the state. Their basis for the charge is that the number of recounted ballots in certain counties does not match the total numbers of votes tallied on Election Day.

The campaign sent a letter to Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie detailing their concerns yesterday.

"It appears that there were numerous ballots that were counted on election day, but that are no longer available for consideration during the recount," Franken recount attorney David Lillehaug wrote.

"This is a matter of profound concern and apparently a violation of the Franken campaign's right [and the Coleman campaign's right] to review every ballot cast on election night."

The Franken campaign is nobly fighting for every vote. Help Al have the resources to do so as the recount moves along into December at our Road To 60 ActBlue page.

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Road To 60: MN-Sen Recount Update

Some interesting developments since earlier this week when Al Franken seemed like Mr. nice guy when it came to challenging Coleman ballots. As of this posting, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune website, with 64% of votes recounted, Franken has made up 95 votes to close to within 120 votes of Coleman. It should be noted, however, that this number is with Franken challenging 848 of Coleman's ballots and Coleman challenging 821 of Franken's. Remember that all challenged ballots get removed from the count until they can be assessed by the canvassing board.

Nate Silver explains:

Meanwhile, the number of ballot challenges -- cases in which one or both candidates appeal an initial ruling my local elections judges -- has increased significantly. Among ballots added to the Secretary of State's totals since last evening, the Franken campaign has challenged 7.5 out of every 10,000 ballots, and the Coleman campaign 7.2 out of every 10,000. These figures are more than double the number of challenges on the first two days of the recount process.

Interestingly, contrary to what the tally is showing, the Franken campaign earlier today claimed that the difference between him and Coleman is actually under 100 votes.

...the Franken campaign claims the true difference is much less than that when you take into account disputed ballots that aren't included right now in the totals but are likely to be resolved pretty easily by the state canvassing board.

Even if a challenged ballot is taken out of the total recount pool for the time being, the Franken campaign thinks it has an idea of what the numbers will eventually look like based on the opinions of the election workers at the individual sites -- and they think the real Coleman lead right now is less than 100 votes...

How can this be? Check out this video from The Uptake to get a sense of just how liberally Coleman is challenging, no doubt to give the illusion that he has a wider lead than he actually does.

Clearly all these votes will be placed in Franken's column ultimately, it's just that in the short term there's no downside to Coleman's challenging them and the upside is the illusion of a bigger lead than he truly has. Nate does see a downside in the long run, however:

The disincentive to challenge ballots is precisely this sort of thing -- challenges that look so ridiculous that they'll weaken your ability to take the moral highground. If the Coleman campaign is on the ball, they'll be ready to show similar frivolities from the Franken campaign as well. The Uptake also reports that the Secretary of State is also taking under advisement a proposal to make all challenged ballots available for public viewing on a website.

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Road To 60: MN-Sen Recount Update

In day two of the Minnesota Senate hand recount, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune website, with 29% of votes and 37% of precincts recounted, Al Franken has made some modest gains since yesterday and has cut Coleman's lead overall by 53 votes and is now behind by just 162 votes.

As I wrote last night, the vote totals of Franken and Coleman are both declining because of the challenges each candidate is making to votes the other received (all challenged votes are thus removed from the count pending review by a canvass board.) As of this posting, Coleman has resorted to challenging way more of Franken's votes (316), than Franken has of Coleman's (211.) If you want to see some examples of actual challenged ballots in the MN-Sen recount, check out this fascinating piece from Minnesota Public Radio.

While I'd certainly like to see Franken's gains come more quickly, there is some reason for continued optimism. First of all is the very fact that so many more of Franken's lost votes are due to challenges than Coleman's are. If Coleman and Franken had challenged in equal amounts, Franken would actually be more than half way toward making up Coleman's entire lead. Similarly, let's say the canvassing board that rules on the challenges rejects the challenges in equal proportions, Franken would make up more votes than Coleman would and therefore could enter that phase of the recount behind Coleman but ultimately prevail.

As Franken recount lawyer Marc Elias said at a campaign briefing with reporters earlier today (h/t TPM):

"We've seen examples of challenges that are clearly non-meritorious, and will not be upheld by the canvass board." If Elias is right about that prediction, Franken could potentially gain even more votes when the board finally takes up those ballots in December.

I do agree with Nate, though, that there is some danger for Franken here as the mere appearance that a canvassing board led by a Democratic SOS "overturned the will of the people" would give Coleman ammunition to demand a second recount or even call into question the election's validity. It probably would behoove Franken to adopt a more aggressive challenge strategy.

Another reason for optimism is the fact that the votes that have been recounted so far have come more from Coleman country than from Franken country.

Again from the press conference:

Marc Elias...said that Franken has made gains despite the fact that the recounted areas so far are more Republican than the state as a whole -- which means they could potentially gain even more votes as the count moves into more pro-Franken precincts, though Elias stressed that they aren't making any direct extrapolations or projections.

As a sign of this, take the recount percentages from the Minnesota Secretary of State's website (which, by the way, hasn't been updated since last night.) It shows that Coleman has received 43.25% of the recounted votes while Franken has received just 39.99%. Compare this with the original certified count of 42% for each of them.

This is due largely to the fact that Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, MN's two most populous counties, which both went for Franken by double digit margins, still have 70% and 85% of their precincts respectively left to recount. On the other hand, Hennepin so far has not exactly been a recount goldmine for Franken, having netted him just 6 votes, although this could be due, again, to Coleman's overly aggressive challenge strategy. About a third of all of Coleman's challenges so far have come from Hennepin County.

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Challenging Ballots is Fun

Minnesota Public Radio has photographs of some of the challenged ballots in the Minnesota recount.  It's a good look at some of the challenges and a tiny fraction of the BS facing ballot judges in Minnesota.  The strategy of both camps seems pretty obvious:  Use any pretense to challenge a ballot so that the ones that are even a little questionable seem like reasonable challenges.  It's a battle of attrition.  

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/feature s/2008/11/19_challenged_ballots/

And now:  Lizard People

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Road To 60: MN-Sen Recount Update

Speaking of the Minnesota Senate recount, results are being updated in real time at the Minneapolis Star Tribune website. Yesterday's certification had Coleman ahead of Franken by 215 votes. As of this posting, with 17% of votes and 25% of precincts recounted, Al Franken has gained 34 votes (or rather, Franken has lost 34 fewer votes than Norm Coleman has) for a margin of 181 votes.

Nate Silver explains:

The reason the vote totals are going down when you might intuitively expect them to go up is that either candidate has a right to challenge any ballot for any reason, even if it had been counted as legal originally. When a vote is challenged, it is deducted from the opposing candidate's total. These challenged votes will go before the state canvassing board in December and be debated (and debated and debated) one by one (by one by one).

Team Coleman has challenged 141 ballots, while Team Franken has challenged 122.

There are also instances where undervotes are counted as valid and added to the candidates' totals, such as Franken's net gain of 28 votes in St. Louis County:

In several precincts in the Democratic stronghold of St. Louis County, Franken made a net gain of 28 votes today that officials said were faintly marked and therefore not originally picked up by an old brand of optical scanner.

Elections officials said the votes were missed by a small number of outdated "Eagle" scanners still in use in 18 of the large county's 184 precincts.

The machines read a ballot that requires voters to draw a thick line connecting the back and front ends of an arrow that points to the candidate.

Only half the St. Louis County precincts that use those old machines had been counted, so one suspects there may be plenty more where those came from.

Also, earlier today Franken won a partial victory when a judge ordered Ramsey County -- MN's 2nd largest -- to release information of the voters whose absentee ballots had been invalidated. While this ruling could mean other counties follow suit, here is the rub:

A key board hasn't decided whether to allow wrongly rejected absentee ballots into the statewide recount.

Certainly, so far, the numbers are moving in the right direction but Franken's going to need to slash that margin at a quicker pace if he's going to overtake Coleman. Some good news for Franken: the two largest counties, Hennepin and Ramsey, which are both Franken strongholds, have only just begun to count (5% and 15% of votes respectively so far.)

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