And the Minnesota recount goes on, still as chaotic and still as confusing.
Yesterday, Al Franken got a significant boost when Ramsey County discovered 171 new ballots out of which he netted 37 votes. But the pendulum swung back to his opponent today when the recount of a precinct in Minneapolis found 133 ballots less than the initial tally - resulting in a net loss of 46 votes for Franken.
Insofar as the recount is designed to discover human errors in the original count, we have to accept that election officials might have overstated numbers just as easily as they might have overlooked ballots - and this is how Minneapolis elections director Cindy Reichert justified the drop in the number of ballots, attributing the error to write-in votes being double-counted.
The Franken campaign, however, quickly charged that this 133-vote drop was not due to a human error in the original counting but to the disappearance of actual ballots in the past month, pleading with election officials to continue the search for any missing ballots.
In what is a short reprieve for Democrats, Reichert reversed herself late tonight and agreed to not close the precinct’s recount until an explanation is found as to the count’s discrepancy.
When the recount finds a lesser tally, there can be no tangible evidence that ballots were initially overcounted rather than subsequently vanished, which is why it is important for election officials to be able to provide a plausible explanation supported by the available data as to how the error might have been committed. For now, there is no such plausible explanation. Reichert’s original double-counting theory did not stand up to scrutiny because the number of votes Franken and Coleman lost in the recount did not match up with the write-in votes that were allegedly processed twice.
Needless to say, the Minnesota recount is surrounded by enough controversy as it is and such chaos is the last thing election officials need if they want to keep the process look relatively transparent.
Meanwhile, Franken is taking a very shrewd approach to its communication process. As we have noted numerous times, Coleman has been increasing his lead when we look at the candidates’ tallies excluding the challenged ballots (this is the Star Tribune’s methodology) but he has also been challenging more ballots than his opponent. This makes the fluctuations in Coleman’s lead potentially artificial - but not enough for the Star Tribune’s numbers (that are being reported by other news outlets) to look unreliable.
Today, Democrats announced that they would withdraw more than 600 challenges. These ballots are presumably all votes for Norm Coleman that Franken watchers had gotten to be put on hold. In other words, once counties process these withdrawals and update their tallies, Coleman’s lead in the Star Tribune’s count is going to increase dramatically to around 900 votes (unless Coleman’s camp withdraws hundreds of its own challenges, which they have said they will not do for now).
What this means is that the recounting totals that exclude challenged ballots will be so obviously useless (and Coleman’s lead will be so obviously artificial) as to be unusable by the media, thereby saving Franken some of the pressure of news stories finding him trailing day after day after day.