Coleman-Franken Race Takes A Left Turn

Today, in a surprise move, Minnesota’s Canvassing Board acceded to Al Franken’s demands and requested that all of the state’s counties identify absentee ballots that were incorrectly disqualified on election day, and count them. No one knows how many such ballots there are, but the most recent indications are that there may be 1,600 that will be so classified.

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What makes this situation odd is that each county is being called on to identify its own election day errors. How the counties choose to do so may depend on their partisan composition. Following the Canvassing Board’s ruling–which is only a request, not an order–the Coleman campaign petitioned Minnesota’s Supreme Court for an order setting out uniform standards for the counties to follow in defining and identifying “improperly” disqualified ballots.

This means that the scenario many Republicans have feared will come to pass; two Republican Supreme Court judges are on the Canvassing Board and likely will recuse themselves from participating in Coleman’s appeal. The bottom line may well be that the more partisan counties–generally speaking, the Democrat-dominated ones–will have considerable latitude in selecting the ballots that are now to be added to the vote total.

On paper, this is a losing battle for Franken. He needs to make up a 200-vote deficit, and errors by county election judges presumably are randomly distributed among the candidates (the Senate race had three viable candidates). Even if 1,600 new ballots are put into play, it would strain the law of averages to the breaking point to imagine that Franken’s total would exceed Coleman’s by more than 200. But with varying levels of partisan commitment among county officials, the identification of “improperly” excluded ballots will not necessarily be random.

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