Al Franken won a round at the Canvassing Board in Minnesota’s recount today. While they don’t have the authority to order counties to reconsider absentee ballots, they issued a recommendation for the counties to review the ballots and identify ballots rejected for non-statutory reasons. A state official estimated that the number of potential “fifth pile” ballots could approach 1,600:
Several hundred absentee ballots have been wrongfully rejected in the Nov. 4 election and that total could more than double by the time all Minnesota counties turn in their reviews, the secretary of state’s office this morning told a panel charged with overseeing the recount in the overtime U.S. Senate contest between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic rival Al Franken.
Moments later, the five-member state Canvassing Board voted unanimously to ask election officials in all 87 counties to count the improperly rejected ballots. However, the board members stressed that they only have the authority to make a recommendation.
The board was told this morning that 49 counties have examined 4,823 rejected absentee ballots and 638 of those were determined by local officials to have been wrongfully rejected.
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann also reported that if that trend holds — with more than 13 percent of the rejected absentee ballots tossed improperly — there would end up being nearly 1,600 wrongfully set aside.
That may not be enough to make a difference. The two candidates had far less than the 0.5% difference in votes that automatically triggered the recount. If 1600 ballots get added back into the mix, Franken would have to win at least 193 more ballots than Norm Coleman or as many as 239, depending on what the board does with the Minneapolis precinct count and the 133 supposedly missing ballots. In a two-way race, Franken would have to outpace Coleman by a 56-44 pace at the lower number, far outside the gap seen in this race and far outside anything suggested by absentee ballot returns. And that doesn’t account for Bean Barkely’s candidacy in the race, which will undoubtedly account for a significant percentage of those ballots as well.
For this to make a difference, Franken would have to win a lot more ballot challenges than Coleman with the Canvassing Board. So far, that looks like a long shot, too.
Coleman may have new problems than just the recount, however. The FBI has begun to look into allegations of corruption first leveled by Franken during the final days of the campaign:
The FBI is investigating allegations in two lawsuits accusing a friend and political supporter of Sen. Norm Coleman of attempting to funnel $75,000 to Coleman from the coffers of a Texas company that the friend controls.
Sources familiar with the probe said FBI agents in Texas have begun gathering information and contacting people associated with Houston-based Deep Marine Technology Inc., an underwater services company controlled by Nasser Kazeminy, a wealthy businessman whose flagship investment company is based in Bloomington.
Paul McKim, the founder and former CEO of Deep Marine, has alleged in a lawsuit against Kazeminy that Kazeminy steered $75,000 in payments last year to Hays Companies Inc. of Minneapolis, a large insurance agency that employs Coleman’s wife, Laurie Coleman.
McKim’s lawsuit alleges that Kazeminy told executives at Deep Marine that Coleman didn’t make enough money as a senator and that the payments to Hays were to aid Coleman financially.
Coleman says he welcomes the investigation, and the FBI has not made any allegations of wrongdoing. Still, with the Blagojevich scandal in the headlines and the election still in the balance, this couldn’t come at a worse time for Minnesota’s incumbent Senator.