As wild as it seemed, the fluctuation of the tally last week in the Franken-Coleman U.S. Senate contest wasn’t your father’s vote roller coaster. Comparing hour-by-hour graphs from the early hours of two tight Minnesota election battles shows that in 1962 the Minnesota gubernatorial election results toyed with an even tie, while 2008’s senatorial showdown was more a steady descent to a 200-vote gap.
The first graph comes from the 1964 book Recount, by Ronald F. Stinnett and Charles H. Backstrom, an authoritative account of the legendarily close election two years earlier for governor of Minnesota. That contest ended — after 139 days of counting and recounting — with a 91-vote margin of victory for Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party challenger Karl Rolvaag over the Republican incumbent Elmer L. Andersen. But it started with an electoral see-saw of first thousands and then dozens of votes that saw the lead change six times in four days.
The graph is a snapshot of a little more than a day of that upheaval, from 9 p.m. election night until midnight the next day. Two lines show the size of the gap favoring first Rolvaag and then Andersen, as tracked by the rival news services United Press and The Associated Press, who were competing for the latest counts from counties across the state. At first, the lines rise sharply into territory indicating a Rolvaag plurality, then dive steeply down as press tallies indicated an Andersen lead, the first of a pattern of plurality shifts that continued for days after the time period depicted in the graph.
The second graph shows a different 28 hours in last week’s counting, based on tabulations courtesy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press’s Political Animal Twitter feed, from nearly 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6, to past 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 7. Over that time, the vote margin favoring U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman dropped from 590 to 221 votes, with a few sudden jolts but no swings in the lead.
How the gap in the Minnesota gubernatorial vote count changed over 27 hours, Nov. 6–7, 1962, in thousands of votes. Lead for Rolvaag in the upper half of the graph, lead for Andersen in the lower half.
How the lead for U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman changed in the Minnesota senatorial vote count over 28 hours, Nov. 6–7, 2008, in hundreds of votes.