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The Recount Is Over

With all votes now recounted, Norm Coleman has been re-elected to the Senate. I think. The Minnesota Secretary of State shows Coleman leading by 687 votes with 99.98% of precincts reporting–all but one. The Minneapolis Star Tribune shows Coleman with a 192 vote victory, with all ballots recounted.

The discrepancy is accounted for by the fact that the Secretary of State has not yet included totals from Minneapolis’s Ward 3, Precinct 1, at the University of Minnesota, where 133 ballots are allegedly missing.

The only thing we know for sure is that the number of ballots that actually exist at that precinct, a DFL stronghold, is 133 fewer than the number that were recorded on the precinct’s voting machine. Cynical observers suspect that 133 ballots were run through the machine twice, giving Al Franken some extra votes. Now, however, the official version is that those ballots are “missing,” and the Secretary of State has given the precinct more time to “find” the ballots.

However that drama turns out, Coleman will win the recount, just as he won on November 4. But the margin is significant. The next stage takes place at the state’s Canvassing Board, which will rule on all of the challenged ballots, something on the order of 5,000 distributed almost exactly equally between the campaigns. Very few of those challenges will be upheld, and no one expects the margin to be very different when that process is complete.

At that point, Al Franken will have to decide whether he wants to go to court to try to overturn the result of the election. His theory would be that some of the 12,000 or so absentee ballots that were disqualified by precincts around the state were wrongly excluded. The Franken campaign says that they believe 1,000 or so ballots may be in this category. Take those figures with several grains of salt; the number of disqualified absentee ballots is not officially reported and no one, obviously, has any idea how many such disqualifications were “wrongful.”

But assume Franken’s numbers are correct. If he is down by 200 votes in the recount, and a hypothetical 1,000 absentee ballots are now ruled eligible, he would have to carry those ballots by 600-400 to catch up. Incorrectly excluded absentee ballots are most likely distributed about equally between Franken and Coleman voters. So if Franken has that many votes or more to make up, he may well decide to forgo litigation, which would raise many novel legal issues and inevitably would last for months, and retire gracefully.

On the other hand, if Franken can narrow the margin down by re-counting what may be an extra 133 votes and through the challenge process, that might tip the balance in favor of protracted litigation. Either way, though, it now appears overwhelmingly probable that Norm Coleman will ultimately–albeit far too narrowly–prevail.

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