The Minnesota State Supreme Court ruled last week that Al Franken could not be seated before the completion of Norm Coleman’s contest. That decision left the Democrat with little hope of joining the Senate any time soon, but his chances of eventually being sworn in were in no way diminished. Quite the contrary, Coleman just suffered yet another damaging blow.
Let’s start with a recap
Ever since Coleman found himself trailing by 225 votes, he has been trying to convince judges to include a large enough pool of currently invalid ballots to have a chance at overtaking Franken. His lawyers have focused their attention on 11,000 rejected absentee ballots and have argued that most of these should in fact be included in the tally. Unfortunately for the GOP, the three judge panel has repeatedly shrunk that number. First, they ruled that Coleman was only allowed to challenge 4,700; then, they ruled that 12 of 19 categories of rejected absentee ballots should not be counted.
And that’s when Coleman finally caught a break in his effort to expand the universe of valid ballots. Two weeks ago, the court found that it would be potentially open to including a specific category: Ballots sent by a non-registered voter that do not contain a registration card outside of the secrecy envelope (as instructions require) but inside it. The court ordered elections to go back to the estimated 1,500 ballots that were rejected because they had been cast by non-registered voter who seemingly did not include a registration card and look at how many contained such a card inside the secrecy envelope.
The GOP immediately started to celebrate this decision: Out of these 1,500 ballots, Coleman’s camp was confident that several hundred would be discovered to contain a card and thus find their way in the tally. We had heard estimates as high as 700.
There will be no meaningful change
Today, the Secretary of State’s office compiled the reports provided by the various counties and announced the findings. The number of valid registration that were found ended up being a huge disappointment for the GOP: 89.
Even if the court does allow for all of these ballots to be included, that is far too low a number to make a difference in the Coleman-Franken battle. Not only is it far inferior to Franken’s lead of 225 votes but neither candidate should gain a significant edge. Consider: Some of these ballots might have skipped the Senate race, others will surely have voted for Dean Barkley, who received about 15% of the statewide Senate vote. Even if Coleman beats Franken among the remaining ballots, he cannot be expected to net more than 10 votes.
That might be better than nothing, but it is also a quasi-fatal blow to the Republican; this was one of his last chances to make a meaningful dent in Franken’s lead.
To get in the detail of these 89 ballots: 61 come from counties won by Norm Coleman, 28 come from counties won by Al Franken. Four counties have more than 10 ballots:
- Dakota County has 15, and it voted for Coleman 46% to 38%.
- Hennepin County has 15, and it voted for Franken 50% to 36%.
- Olmsted County has 15, and it voted for Coleman 47% to 38%.
- Washington County has 14, and it voted for Coleman 47% to 37%.
None of these margins are overwhelming, and the breakdown of these ballots will be unpredictable. That most come from red districts is a good sign for the Republican, but remember that we are talking about a constituency (newly-registered voters) that lean further to the left than the electorate at large: CNN’s exit poll of the Minnesota Senate race shows Franken leading by 18% among voters who had never voted before.
Understandably frustrated by this finding, the Coleman campaign is spin these number upwards and cling onto whatever piece of information can look favorable. For instance, election officials announced that an additional 72 ballots were found to contain previously unseen registration cards, but the cards were not valid or had been filled improperly. Coleman’s camp said it would like to review those cards, and is thus insisting that 161 potentially valid ballots were discovered this week rather than just 89 - at least insofar as Coleman’s camp is concerned.
Republicans are also hoping that the court to rule in their favor in the few categories of absentee ballots that have yet to be ruled on. Coleman’s lawyers are talking about a couple of hundred ballots that be added to the list based on these remaining issues.
In short: Coleman’s camp is as concerned with entertaining confusion as with making legally sound arguments. They are hoping that they can make the election look so messed up - “this is all floating around,”says Coleman’s lawyer Ben Ginsberg - that the judges and the public will conclude that the only remedy is to hold a new one. For now, the three judge panel has shown no indication that it is so dismayed by the proceedings that it would even consider recommending such a path.