With more than three-quarters of the ballots recounted, it looks like Norm Coleman has held his edge on Al Franken for the Senate seat he currently occupies.  The number of ballot challenges has topped 3,000, though, so in the end the canvassing board will eventually decide the winner:

The number of ballot challenges in the U.S. Senate recount surged again on Monday, passing 3,000 overall and clouding the question of who’s picking up ground in the hotly contested race.

More than 78 percent of the votes had been recounted as of Monday night, and Republican Sen. Norm Coleman’s advantage over DFLer Al Franken stood at 210, according to a Star Tribune compilation of results reported to the secretary of state and gathered by the newspaper. Before the recount, Coleman led Franken by 215 votes out of about 2.9 million cast, a margin that has fluctuated over the past week.

Each candidate’s vote total has fallen by more than 1,100 since the recount began, and the bulk of the drop apparently is the result of ballot challenges by the other side, which may or may not be upheld by the state Canvassing Board next month. Each campaign has challenged more than 1,500 ballots.

The Strib thinks that Franken has gained 46 votes on Coleman since the start of the recount outside of the ballot challenges.  That’s not enough to swing the election, if that trend continues.  Only 22% of the ballots remain to be counted, and at that rate Franken will only gain a handful more.  As I have written in the past, the optical-scan system used by most of Minnesota has tremendous reliability, and the microscopic changes seen prove that.

Of course, they’re not done counting, either, but should finish soon.  I tried to warn people that vote counts could fluctuate wildly, especially at the beginning, but we’ve seen pretty remarkable stability each day.  Until the recount process finishes and the canvassing board reviews the ballots, there’s little to report or be done.

Side stories seem to erupt every day anyway.  One precinct used a Franken worker as an election judge for the recount, which got a short bit of attention.  However, in the end, the Coleman campaign challenged more ballots in that precinct than did the Franken campaign (11 to 7), which indicates that this wasn’t much of a story at all.

The canvassing board will provide the real focus for this recount.  We’re fortunate to have four widely-respected jurists on this panel who will not countenance any shenanigans, even with the strongly partisan Mark Ritchie as a statutory member as Secretary of State.  Those challenge decisions will favor Coleman in the end if Franken observers keep challenging ballots like this:

The only opportunity Franken has to overtake Coleman at this rate is to get previously rejected absentee ballots added to the count.  Even the Star Tribune can’t stomach that notion:

“Count them all” has a nice democratic ring to it. (Note: that’s a small “d.”) DFL Senate candidate Al Franken’s campaign has that much going for it, as it calls for adding several thousand previously rejected absentee ballots to the Senate election recount that has been in progress since Nov. 19.

But that shouldn’t be enough for the state Canvassing Board, which is set to meet Wednesday for a hearing on Franken’s request. Adding previously untallied ballots to the recount should require something more: a foundation in law. …

This state is blessed with election laws that are definitive and clear. The chapter on absentee ballots alone runs 20 pages in the statute books. The rules setting out what does and does not constitute an acceptable absentee ballot are taken very seriously by election judges. That does not mean that human error did not occur on Nov. 4, or that every aspect of the statute itself would withstand a court test. But let the courts decide.

Even Mark Ritchie, the DFL Secretary of State, recognizes that the Canvassing Board’s mission is not to adjust state law, but to properly manage a recount according to existing statute.  Franken will have to go to court to get state law overturned on ballot handling, which they know will be almost impossible, thanks to Minnesota’s clear and reasonable statutory requirements for absentee ballots.  The Canvassing Board, four of whose members serve on state appellate courts, will understand the distinction, even if Franken does not.

Tags: Minnesota