Minnesota Recount: Taking longer than expected

I’m getting a few requests for updates today for the Minnesota recount situation, and the best I can tell you is that nothing much has changed — and even the changes people think have occurred are tenuous at best.  The canvassing board hoped to finish their work today after finally reviewing the last of the ballot challenges, but reintroducing the withdrawn challenges turned out to be a bigger task than first thought:

The state Canvassing Board will wait until Tuesday to meet again to try to determine a winner in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race between DFLer Al Franken and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said Sunday that the delay was caused by the amount of time it is taking to reallocate the roughly 5,000 ballot challenges that were withdrawn by the two men. …

According to Star Tribune figures, Franken holds a lead over Coleman of 251 votes. That lead is expected to shrink after the 5,000 challenges are tabulated because Franken challenged about 400 more ballots than Coleman.

The same day, the state Supreme Court will take up the question of whether more than 100 ballots were counted twice, as Coleman contends.

Still at issue is the fate of an estimated 1,600 absentee ballots that were improperly rejected by election judges. The two campaigns and state officials have until Dec. 31 to figure out which of those rejected ballots will be counted.

The big question remains who leads after the ballot challenges.  The unofficial counts that have been used have not accurately reflected the state of the race, because they failed to account for the withdrawn ballot challenges.  The campaigns challenged each others’ votes almost exclusively, and since Franken withdrew 400 challenges more than Coleman, the implication is that the return of the challenges will wipe out that 251-vote lead and return Coleman to the lead.

Bottom line: we won’t know much until at least tomorrow, and depending on the Supreme Court decision, possibly into the new year.  This recount was automatic because of the close nature of the results, and both campaigns have used their challenges in similar ways.  The canvassing board, apart from the hyperpartisan Mark Ritchie, is comprised of respected, independent jurists.  John Lott, though, sees problems with their results:

The Canvassing Board faces a difficult task in divining voter intentions. It is very difficult to determine how a voter meant to vote simply by looking at what might be stray marks on the ballot. And whatever rules are adopted must be consistently used in evaluating all ballots.

Some board decisions on votes are exceedingly difficult to understand, and even watching the television coverage of their decisions this last week provided little additional insight. Here is an example where the Minnesota Canvassing Board claims the vote is clearly for Franken. Voters are supposed to fill in the small oval next to a candidate’s name to vote for that candidate. The board explains its decision as there being “No Dup” (presumably meaning that there was no duplicate ballot), but it is not clear how that would switch what looks like an obvious Coleman vote to a Franken vote.

We’ll know tomorrow.  Lott thinks that Franken may still be ahead after the allocation of withdrawn challenges.