Minnesota Recount: Good news/bad news

We’ll start with the good news in the Minnesota Recount, at least from Norm Coleman’s perspective.  The expected gain for Al Franken in the heavily DFL counties of Hennepin (Minneapolis) and Ramsey (St. Paul) appears to have gone bust.  Coleman has actually gained in Hennepin, according to the Pioneer Press:

Are the piles of recounted ballots from red counties, where Republican Sen. Norm Colman might be expected to pick up a few stray votes? Or blue counties, where DFL challenger Al Franken might have the advantage?

But Minneapolis — the biggest, bluest pile of all — is turning that logic on its head. With nearly half of its ballots recounted, the city Franken calls home isn’t doing the candidate any favors. And that could be dimming Franken’s hopes of catching Coleman before the state canvassing board meets Dec. 16.

“Things are clearly moving in the wrong direction for Franken,” said Larry Jacobs, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.

With fewer than half of the ballots counted in Minneapolis, Franken has lost 86 votes, while Coleman has lost just 37. In other words, the city could be blunting any recount advantage Franken might have in the rest of the state as the recount rolls toward its Dec. 5 deadline.

True voter errors tend to be random, which is why these expectations always sounded a little strange.  Unless one believes that Franken voters are on average more inept than Coleman voters — a theory one Franken worker floated earlier — the recount should produce only microscopic changes that mostly act to cancel themselves out.  The highly-reliable optical scan system minimizes even these problems, which is why we have seen little movement in the overall gap between the two candidates.

Scott Johnson at Power Line gives us the bad news in their comprehensive post for today.   With his hopes fading on the recounting of valid ballots, Franken wants to revisit the idea of adding rejected ballots back into the pool.  The Star Tribune reports that DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie may try facilitating that:

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman proposed a process for reconsidering rejected absentee ballots that would partly skirt the Canvassing Board: Have local elections officials review such ballots and identify those possibly improperly rejected.

Freeman, a DFLer who backed Franken, said that he and Anoka County Attorney Bob Johnson worked on the plan after Secretary of State Mark Ritchie asked them and other county attorneys for ideas to improve the process.

In a statement, the Coleman campaign said: “This is a back-door effort by both the Franken campaign, and Mr. Freeman, to try to gain influence on the eve of the discussions by the Canvassing Board, and there needs to be further explanation for why the Hennepin County Attorney is using his office in such an overtly partisan manner.”

But Freeman disagreed with that assessment. “This is trying to count all the ballots. How the hell is that partisan?” he said.

The Minnesota recount statutes are clear on this point.  The recount is strictly to tally those ballots accepted as valid on Election Day, and not to review rejected ballots for potential addition to the pool.  The state AG’s office has already communicated that to the Canvassing Board, but Ritchie wants to muddy the waters to assist Franken with either improving his chance by expanding the pool or to set up a lawsuit over the Canvassing Board’s actions after the recount ends.

In any event, though, even that pool may be small.  Only 53 absentee ballots were found to be rejected through administrative error by the Strib in Ramsey County, one of only two counties that had any admin error at all.  That won’t keep Franken from claiming widespread error, of course, but unlike in Washington and Florida, the statutes in Minnesota are very clear on absentee ballot acceptance and rejection, which minimizes the potential problems.

Read all of Scott’s post, especially the warning fron John Fund.  This isn’t over yet, and may not be for months.  Also, be sure to read an analysis by my friend Dr. Eric Ostermeier at the University of Minnesota as to why Norm Coleman’s victory, if upheld, would be a historic triumph for Republicans in this state.

Update: More good news; the Canvassing Board unanimously rejected Franken’s demand to add the rejected absentee ballots to the recount, and to have the board review the rejects.