The hand recount of the Coleman-Franken Senate race concluded yesterday, but the winner may not be declared for quite some time. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Coleman is leading Franken by 192 votes, but roughly 6,000 ballots that have been challenged by the campaigns remain to be counted by a state canvassing board. The board, comprised of the secretary of state and four judges, will meet on December 16 to begin issuing final calls on challenged ballots.
The Franken camp contends that among these 6,000 challenged ballots, Franken edges out Coleman by 196 votes, giving the Democrat a 4 vote lead. But Franken is leading by 4 votes only if his camp's internal tally is correct and 133 ballots missing from one Democratic precinct are included in the final count.
If these 133 ballots--which were not found after an extensive search--are not counted, Franken would be dealt a net loss of 46 votes and thus, by his own campaign's estimation, trail Coleman. However, it's possible that even if these ballots aren't found the canvassing board could choose to accept the election night results in that precinct and include the ballots. The Coleman campaign's lead lawyer says he's looking into the legality of counting ballots that cannot physically be produced.*
Another crucial decision still up in the air is whether or not the canvassing board will count absentee ballots that were rejected due to errors made by election officials. Yesterday, the Franken campaign asked Minnesota's county officials to open and count these ballots. Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky told me that his staff has identified a total of 32 ballots in St. Paul that were improperly rejected. Most of these ballots, he said, were rejected because election officials incorrectly thought the voters were not registered. Mansky said he would not count these ballots without a court order. The secretary of state's office has speculated that there may be 500 such improperly rejected absentee votes statewide.
It's possible that Coleman actually has a big enough lead to win even if these rejected absentee ballots and the 133 missing ballots are included in the end. Coleman representatives won't place their lead at a specific number of votes, but they continue to maintain that they're ahead of Franken.
There's really no way to tell if the Franken campaign or Coleman campaign is telling the truth about their internal vote tallies, though I find the Franken camp's claim of a 4 vote lead curious. If Franken's campaign said they led--or trailed--Coleman by enough votes that it didn't matter whether rejected absentee ballots or the missing ballots were counted, then sympathetic officials would have little reason to stick their necks out and rule in Franken's favor on these matters.
*For what it's worth, I think these 133 ballots did in fact exist at one point. I get into the weeds of the case of the missing ballots below the fold.Minneapolis election officials believe an envelope containing 133 ballots has gone missing. Officials say they possess four envelopes in this precinct marked '2/5', '3/5', '4/5', '5/5'--but they have no envelope marked '1/5', which is believed to contain 133 ballots.
Minneapolis election officials also reported the following statistics:
1,047 voters signed in on the roster on Election Day.
932 additional voters registered in person on Election Day.
35 absentee ballots were accepted in this precinct by the city.
15 absentee ballots were accepted in this precinct by the county.
Added all up, that would equal 2,029 ballots. The precinct recorded 2,028 votes on election night. The one vote discrepancy could be due to a machine or human error--or one person could have signed in to vote and left before actually marking a ballot.
So isn't it possible that 133 people signed in, and left before they voted?
There were long lines on Election Day at this particular precinct, located near the University of Minnesota, so theoretically that's possible. But what are the odds that 133 people walked out of the polls before voting and then election officials double-counted precisely 132 ballots? Highly unlikely.