Eric Kleefeld has been doing a great job chronicling the strange but true saga that is the Norm Coleman-Al Franken Death Match.
We’ve now found a case of lead Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg actually being concerned about ballot fraud, and wanting to keep a vote out as a result — so much so that he’ll speculate about a Franken-voter being mentally disabled.
Really. No joke.
In court just now, lead Franken lawyer Marc Elias went over a rejected ballot envelope for which he said a power of attorney had been granted by a disabled voter, to allow a family member to fill it out. The issue was that the mark made to authorize the family member was not a signature or a conventional “X”, but was instead an amorphous scribble. Elias and Goodhue County elections official Carolyn Holmsted spent some time hashing it out.
Then Friedberg took issue with this whole idea of the power of attorney to fill out a ballot, which is a specifically allowed clause in Minnesota law for disabled voters.
“…it’s worth considering what Republicans are getting — not by keeping Coleman’s hopeless effort alive but far more importantly by delaying Al Franken’s swearing in.
The Stimulus Bill battle is a good example. The Dems needed Specter, Collins and Snowe to get the thing through. With Franken they would have needed only two of those votes. I don’t know precisely what each of them wanted. But I don’t think there’s much doubt that would have led to a less watered-down bill. And it seems quite possible that that missing vote will play a similarly consequential role in the weeks ahead. Perhaps in the months ahead.
The court process has to play itself out. There’s no way around that — though the judges seem ready to strangle Coleman. But we could do with a little more recognition of the fact that this is not about getting Norm Coleman into the senate. It’s about paying money to give the Republicans a few more months of leverage against the Democrats 59 seat majority.”
–Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo, 02.18.09
If you’re like me, this whole recount thing has been hard to keep track of… patricularly with competing claims from each side. The Washington Post has an excellent primer on what is really happening:
It is [the] challenged ballots, which number roughly 6,000, that are responsible for the confusion.
The secretary of State’s office chooses not to count any of these ballots in its overall vote count — meaning that when the recount ends on Friday there will be 6,000 or so fewer votes than there were on election day.
The Franken campaign, on the other hand, is counting all 6,000 votes — using as its standard the judgment of the independent observer. So, if the independent analyst ruled a ballot as a vote for Coleman — even if Franken is challenging it — the Franken campaign counts it as a vote for Coleman.
In short: the secretary of State is counting none of the challenged ballots and the Franken campaign is counting all of the challenged ballots. It’s that simple.
The fate of the race likely rests in the hands of how these 6,000 challenged ballots shake out. Once the recount ends, a five-person canvassing board is set to meet on Dec. 16 to make final rulings on the remaining challenged ballots.
Our take: This race is about as close to a tie as you can get. But, remember that in politics perception matters and both sides are, smartly, seeking to win the PR battle.
Keep in mind that this was based on a regression model with fairly high error bars.., so take it with a grain of salt (from a guy who was extremely close to calling the presidential election):
With a total of 2,885,555 ballots having been recorded in the initial count, this works out to a projected gain of 242 votes for Franken statewide. Since Norm Coleman led by 215 votes in the initial count, this suggests that Franken will win by 27 votes once the recount process is complete (including specifically the adjudication of all challenged ballots).
The error bars on this regression analysis are fairly high, and so even if you buy my analysis, you should not regard Franken as more than a very slight favorite. Nevertheless, there is good reason to believe that the high rate of ballot challenges is in fact hurting Franken disproportionately, and that once such challenges are resolved, Franken stands to gain ground, perhaps enough to let him overtake Coleman.