John Eastman of the Ashbrook Center makes a good point (scroll down) that we haven’t seen anywhere else about the Minnesota Senate race. An unknown number of absentee ballots have already been cast; under Minnesota law, those cast for Coleman will count for him, while those cast for Wellstone will not count for Mondale. Eastman assumes a 2.3 million voter turnout, 30% absentee ballots (based on the nationwide Democratic efforts to get the absentee total that high), and assumes further that 70% of those absentee ballots have already been cast, or will be cast using the original absentee ballots. On those assumptions, Eastman calculates that “Mondale would have to win by more than 10 percentage points on election day in order to prevail.” He hypothesizes that this may be why Mondale has not yet officially accepted the offer to run. Eastman’s point is valid, but I am afraid his assumptions are too optimistic. Coleman will have a lead based on absentee ballots already cast, but it is unlikely to be that large. In the last election, only 6% of Minnesota’s ballots were absentee. Even if one assumes that will double to 12%–a liberal assumption–that is only around 276,000 votes. Further, while there is no way to know how many of those ballots have already been returned, 70% seems very high to me. If you assume that 12% of the voters will vote by absentee ballot this year; that 50% of those ballots have been returned or will be returned using the original form; and Coleman gets 45% of those absentee ballots, he has a head start of 62,100 votes. To offset that lead, Mondale would have to win by 3 percentage points, so that 49% for Mondale, 46% for Coleman and 5% for third parties would allow Mondale to squeak by. So I think Eastman’s numbers are too optimistic, but his basic point is valid. If I am right and the Coleman/Mondale race turns out to be closer than most people expect–not a “coronation,” as the Trunk believes–absentee ballots could make the difference.
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