A number of unanswered questions continue to cloud the ultimate outcome of the U.S. Senate recount in Minnesota. What will become of wrongly rejected absentee ballots? Will 133 lost Minneapolis ballots be included in the recount? How many challenged ballots will remain when the State Canvassing Board begins examining the contested votes early next week? And will the election ultimately be decided by the courts or the U.S. Senate?
Al Franken’s campaign continues to claim that it holds a miniscule four-vote lead when all ballots are considered, while counts tabulated by media outlets show Coleman maintaining a 192-vote margin. The difference in these tallies comes from how the roughly 6,600 challenged ballots are treated. The Franken camp’s count includes every single disputed vote, relying on the judgment of the local elections officials in determining which candidate a voter intended to support. The other tallies do not include any of the challenged ballots.
But the number of contested ballots continues to drop by the day now that the manual recount is complete. The Coleman camp announced today that it is withdrawing another 475 challenges, bringing the number of ballots that it’s contesting down to 2,250. Similarly the Franken campaign has been whittling away at its pile of contested ballots, reducing the total to 2,222.
Some clarification on these lingering issues should begin to emerge on Friday when the five-member statewide canvassing board again meets to consider the fate of wrongly rejected absentee ballots. The Franken campaign was initially rebuffed in its effort to have the panel include such votes in the recount, but the five-member board is now set to revisit the issue.
The secretary of state’s office has directed local elections officials to sort rejected absentee ballots into five piles, indicating either the reason that a vote was disqualified or that there is no proper reason for the ballot not being counted. This procedure would potentially clear the way for such votes to be included in the recount. But some counties — including Ramsey and Washington — have refused to begin the sorting process, arguing that such a step would require a court order. The Franken campaign believes there are close to 1,000 absentee ballots that were wrongly rejected by local elections officials.
The canvassing board is also likely to address the issue of the 133 lost Minneapolis ballots on Friday. The Democrat’s campaign believes that the votes, which were included in the original vote tally, should still be counted. Meanwhile the Coleman camp continues to question whether any ballots have actually disappeared — despite strong evidence to the contrary.
If the Franken campaign doesn’t get its way on these issues the contest looks likely headed to court. While Marc Elias, the Democrat’s lead recount attorney, has continually downplayed this possibility, he made it clear at a press conference today in Washington that litigation remains a possibility. “If voters in Minnesota are disenfranchised, if there are lawful ballots that have not been counted, all options are gonna be on the table,” Elias told reporters. “We’re not gonna walk away from what are hundreds, if not more, lawful votes.”
But there’s also another possible electoral endgame: The Senate could intervene in the process. Competing stories out of the Capitol today come to opposite conclusions on how likely this scenario remains. Roll Call asserts that such an outcome is becoming more probable as the recount drags on, while Politico counters that the defeat of Jim Martin in last week’s Georgia Senate race (and with it, the Democrats’ dream of a veto-proof majority) makes the likelihood of such a scenario remote.