As of Friday night, Norm Coleman’s lead had melted to 136 votes. 24 hours later, he had inched back to an 180 vote edge. After a Sunday break, a new day of recounting today led the incumbent Senator to pick up a net 30 votes, bringing his overall lead to 210 votes - almost what it was at the beginning of the recount.
However, another development undercuts the narrative of a gaining Coleman: the number of challenged ballots is increasingly rapidly and has now reached 3,036 - and Republicans especially have picked up the pace of challenges. As of Friday night, Franken watchers had challenged a few more ballots than had Coleman’s staffers. As of last night, Republicans had objected to 36 more ballots than their counterparts.
This change is particularly transparent in St. Louis County. You might remember that Franken gained a lot of votes in this county as the recount started last week before the so-called “Eagles” machines used in many of the counties’ precincts were outdated and could not reading faint marks. Yet, St. Louis County practically finished recounting its ballots yesterday and Coleman netted many more votes: Franken lost 126 votes and Coleman lost 69 votes - a gain of 57 votes in Coleman’s favor.
How is such a turn-around possible in a heavily Democratic district in which Franken had netted votes as of Friday? Republicans have challenged far more ballots than Democrats - 222 to 128, a very significant difference that makes it highly probable that Franken’s numbers have been lowered through frivolous challenges and that the Democrat will gain many more votes in this county when the canvassing board meets in December.
Overall, this confusing state of affairs means only one thing: It is impossible to predict who will come out on top. The candidates have lost about 2,300 votes since the recount started and more than 3,000 ballots were challenged, suggesting that there are already hundreds of undervotes that were not included in the initial tally or in the recounted tally and that could make their way in the final results, making any prediction virtually worthless.
To make matters worse, various scandals are erupting across the state, adding to the hostility between the two camps. Yesterday, for instance, a precinct in Ramsey County (St. Paul) discovered that there were seven ballots less in a box than what had been originally accounted for. It is certainly possible that the original count was flawed, but such a discovery inevitably leads to suscipicions of disappearing ballots. Another controversy concerned a woman who served as a Franken observer in one county and as an election judge in another.
And none of this accounts the hundreds of absentee ballots that were rejected in the initially tally and that the Franken campaign is trying to get reconsidered. There is no plan to do so in any county, as election officials are holding that a recount only concerns ballots that were deemed valid. Franken counters that any electoral activity should undergo a verification process, and Democrats are reportedly preparing to go to court to press their point - potentially throwing this race in overtime past the canvassing board’s December meeting!
In other words, we still have a long way to go in Minnesota.