Call it a “bad news, good news” decision on the part of the election contest judges in Minnesota. Yesterday, the panel eliminated 12 of 19 categories of uncounted absentee ballots, ruling them invalid and removing them from consideration. That sounds like bad news for Norm Coleman, but as it turns out, it only removes about a quarter of the 4800 ballots in dispute:
Dealing a blow but not a knockout to Republican Norm Coleman’s hopes, the judges in the U.S. Senate election trial on Friday tossed out most of the 19 categories of rejected absentee ballots they were considering for a second look, making it clear that they won’t open and count any ballots that don’t comply with state law.
On its face, the ruling looked to be a victory for DFLer Al Franken, whose lawyers had urged the judges to turn down 17 of the 19 categories and said Friday that they had very nearly done it. …
But Coleman’s attorneys saw it differently, saying that the ruling leaves untouched about 3,500 of the 4,800 rejected absentee ballots they want the court to open and count, enough to make it possible for Coleman to overcome Franken’s 225-vote certified recount lead.
Coleman lawyer Fritz Knaak said that those remaining votes — along with the ballots of registered voters who were thought to be nonregistered as well as the ballots of voters whose signatures looked mismatched but weren’t — will eventually result in Coleman’s return to the Senate.
If you’re Coleman, you want as many categories to remain in consideration, because he needs as many new ballots as possible to gain an increase of at least 226 votes. Just on the raw numbers, losing 1300 ballots out of the count makes that more difficult, although it also depends on where those ballots originated. And don’t forget that third-party candidate Dean Barkley will also get some of these votes, which complicates Coleman’s prospects.
In a three-way race with Barkley getting 15% of the vote, a sample of 4800 would require Coleman to outpoll Franken by slightly less than 5% of the overall vote, 44.85% – 40.15% to get 226 votes. In a sample of 3500, he has to outpoll Franken by more than six points, 45.73% – 39.27%. That would be farther outside the split of the race, although Franken has largely already gotten the absentees from his best districts added to the vote count. What’s left is more likely to favor Coleman, which is why Franken wanted more categories dismissed.
That’s why the decision actually helps Coleman more than it hurts. It leaves a pretty large sample of ballots for new votes to count, and the originating counties tend to be in Coleman’s favor. This decision almost ensures that all of these ballots will wind up getting opened, which is exactly what Coleman needs. The election contest also has yet to rule on the double-counted provisional ballots, and if Coleman wins that argument, Franken’s lead will dip under a hundred even before opening these ballots. Overall, it’s a win for Coleman — and for the voters who will finally get their voices heard in this election.