Friday, December 12, 2008

Recount Update.

Al Franken got some good news today when the State Canvassing board unanimously decided to include improperly rejected absentee ballots, by some estimates expected to be as high as 1,600, in the final recount total. Also decided were two Hennepin county ballot quandaries. The election night results will stand in place of the missing ballots in ward 3, precinct 1, and the 12 uncounted absentee ballots will be counted as part of the fifth pile count.

The decision regarding the IRAB's, which has been at the center of the Franken campaigns recount efforts, is big news. It's still unknown how counties who have previously refused to sort their rejected absentee ballots, like Ramsey, will respond. The State Canvassing board did not require county election officials to sort the rejected absentee ballots, only asked them to. The new wrinkle added was that the Canvassing board also instructed counties to open the IRAB's, count them, and include them in the election totals. The Canvassing board will than make the decision to include them in the final tally or not.

With these ruling's it's exceedingly unlikely that this won't end up in court. Even the Canvassing board seemed resigned to the fact that no matter what action is taken, on either issue, court proceedings will follow.

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson had this to say about including the election night results from ward 3, precinct 1:

"Some court, some judge, somewhere, may reach a different conclusion. That's how the process works."

Shortly after the Canvassing board meeting the Coleman campaign announced they would ask the State Supreme court to require counties follow consistent standards when counting the IRAB's, the first in what is sure to be a long series of court challenges as the Coleman campaign now switches to a defensive position. Without the inclusion of the IRAB's it was going to come down to the wire and all rest on the Canvassing board's interpretation of the challenged ballots. Now it looks as though Al Franken may be the clear favorite to win the recount.

The actual vote totals of the IRAB's remains unknown, but according to pre-election polling, Franken was running at about an 8% advantage in early/absentee voting. The total number of IRAB's also remains unknown, the Star Tribune is currently reporting the total at 692, but estimates range from 1,000 to 1,600. In analysis posted yesterday I projected the final IRAB total at 970. Adding today's updated numbers into the mix that projection now stands at 1,038.

But wait, there's this. In Duluth about 40% of the city's 319 rejected absentee ballots, or about 127, were rejected improperly. This is far above the 10% IRAB rate seen statewide, apparently the reason was election officials misunderstanding of what constitutes a properly signed ballot, dated or not. St Louis County has yet to report but this would add about 95 extra votes to the projection, taking it to 1,133. If Al Franken wins the IRAB's by 8%, that is a 90 vote margin, at 5% Franken would net 56 votes. Either outcome would likely be decisive.

In light of this good news word is that the Franken camp will be withdrawing 750 more challenged ballots. This is a no brainer as the Canvassing board clearly seemed upset about the volume of challenges it was facing.  Secretary of State Mark Ritchie made his feelings clear.

"I'm not happy about this."

The ballot challenges were part of gamesmanship that was going on during the recount and now that things are moving in Franken's favor he has no need to play that game anymore.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the Franken campaign withdraw even more challenges.  On the other hand there is no incentive for the Coleman campaign to withdraw anymore challenges because they will want to stall as much as possible, hoping for vindication in the courts.

Previously I predicted that the Canvassing board would punt on the IRAB's and let the courts deal with the issue in an effort to avoid possible litigation. Instead the Canvassing board, it appears, has the goal of counting all the votes and not doing whatever it can to avoid eventual litigation. For that I applaud them. In the final analysis Minnesota voters who properly cast a ballot should not be denied that vote for bureaucratic or clerical reasons. 

Next up, adjudicating the challenged ballots.

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