Minnesota Senate Recount, Update III

The Senate recount continues in Minnesota; well over half of all ballots will have been recounted by the end of the day. Challenges are increasing from both campaigns and tempers seem to be fraying, with the campaigns holding dueling press conferences today, but changes in the count do not seem to be dramatic.

The Franken campaign said today that they think Coleman’s lead has been cut to “double digits,” assuming that challenges are rejected. But at the pace they have been able to erode Coleman’s lead so far, it doesn’t appear that Franken will quite get over the top.

A member of Coleman’s recount team writes:

The story of the recount is the DUPLICATE ballots. They are causing huge problems. I saw it in Edina too.

The Duplicates and Originals are not matching so in some cases double counting is happening. … I could envision that the duplicates may have to be looked at again after all of this is over.

When absentee ballots are emailed from overseas or otherwise are not suitable to go through the machines, the election judges will prepare a duplicate ballot with the same votes. The originals and duplicates will all be marked: Original#1, Duplicate #1, Original #2, etc. The originals are kept in a sealed folder and the duplicates are run through the machine. What has happened in a surprising number of instances is that the recounters can’t find all the duplicate ballots. There are, say, six originals but only four duplicates. This can result in double-counting as the procedure is to begin by removing the duplicates from the ballots to be counted, and adding in the originals.

There have been a number of instances where confusion has arisen over a small number of ballots, like this one reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

In St. Louis County, election officials said this morning that four ballots — three for Coleman and one for Franken — may be missing from the packet delivered by Hermantown Precinct 3.

The machine count from that precinct in the Duluth suburb showed 696 votes for Coleman and 854 for Al Franken. But the hand count of the ballots, begun Thursday and confirmed today, reflected only 693 votes for Coleman.

Paul Tynjala, the county’s director of elections, said it’s hard to know why the machine count doesn’t match the paper count. Ballots might be missing, or “the machine could have jammed, and they pulled the jammed ballots out and ran them back through,” not realizing the machine already had counted them, Tynjala said. He said he planned to ask precinct officials for an explanation.

These minor glitches occur in every election, of course. The difference is that the Coleman-Franken race could be so close that a handful of ballots may decide it.

There is an analogy here, I think, to the Florida recount of 2000. The vote in Florida was essentially a tie; hence the resulting litigation. But it wouldn’t have been a tie if the networks hadn’t prematurely called the state for Al Gore while voting was still going on in the panhandle, which is on central time. Studies done after the election concluded that the networks’ error–they claimed not to know that Florida was still voting when they called the state–cost George Bush thousands of votes, thereby leading to the photo finish.

Likewise, in Minnesota this year Coleman would have won a narrow but clear victory but for fraudulent ballots that were cast on November 4. In Minnesota, no serious effort is made to prevent voter fraud. The amount of fraud isn’t large, but with ACORN hard at work the number of fraudulent ballots was surely large in relation to the razor-thin margin that now will decide the election.

UPDATE: From inside the Coleman campaign, the word is that they think their margin increased today. The Coleman camp thinks that Franken stepped up his challenges today so that the totals as reported will appear closer than they really are. (Challenged ballots won’t be included in the reported totals.) Franken likely will commence a lawsuit to try to reverse the election’s result, and the calculation may be that the public will be more accepting of such a lawsuit if, based on daily news accounts, it perceives the race as a virtual tie.

The challenged ballots will ultimately be reviewed by the state’s Canvassing Board. As I’ve written before, Franken is surely not hoping for any skulguggery from that quarter, as the members of the board, including two state Supreme Court justices, are unimpeachable.

FURTHER UPDATE: Once again, I’m having a hard time making the numbers work. The Minneapolis Star Tribune says Coleman’s lead has slipped a bit to 120. The Strib lists a percentage of ballots counted (64%) that is different from what is shown on the Secretary of State’s web site. It’s not obvious why. In any event, the race continues to be razor-thin with most of Minneapolis yet to be counted.

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