The final step in the statewide manual recount of the U.S. Senate race is underway. Shortly after noon, the five-member canvassing board began examining the roughly 1,500 ballots that have been challenged by the campaigns of Sen. Norm Coleman and Al Franken.
The process started orderly enough, with the board unanimously rejecting the first of 441 contested ballots put forth by the Franken campaign. Chief Ramsey County Judge Kathleen Gearin then offered a sentiment likely shared by her fellow canvassing board members. “Can I just say it felt real good to get started on this?” she observed.
By the end of the first hour, when the panel took a break, Coleman had picked up 17 votes while Franken had gained 4. Those numbers are not likely reflective of any trend, however, since all of the challenges considered were from the Democrat’s campaign, meaning they are more likely to accrue in the Republican’s favor.
There were signs that the process will not be without turbulence. An early ballot considered by the canvassing board displayed a mark in between the spaces allocated for Coleman and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley. Local election officials had initially determined that it was a vote for Coleman. The panel, however, split on their appraisal of the voter’s intent, ultimately ruling that it should count for neither candidate — a loss for the Republican.
Before the canvassing board began inspecting the contested ballots, attorneys for each campaign were given five minutes to address the panel. Tony Trimble, representing the Coleman side, expressed concern that in some cases both original and duplicate ballots may have been included in the recount, meaning that the vote would have been tallied twice. “We now face a situation of double votes,” Trimble said. “This has occurred in at least 137 precincts that we are aware of.”
Marc Elias representing the Franken campaign, pooh-poohed the possibility that some votes have been double counted. Instead he suggested that the Republicans are now trying to change the rules of the recount. “Those were the rules that we were given, and neither party objected to those rules that we were given,” he said. “It seems to me that today … is a bit late in the process for us to now say these rules which the Secretary of State set forth need to now be the subject of a intensive audited review.”
The canvassing board didn’t immediately act on the issue of purportedly double-counted ballots, punting that discussion to a later time. They then began the painstaking process of examining the contested ballots. The panel is expected to continue this process through at least 5 p.m. today and hopes to conclude it by Friday.