Minnesota Canvassing Board officials finished their review Wednesday of all ballots disputed by Senate candidate Al Franken’s campaign, awarding votes to incumbent GOP Sen. Norm Coleman by a nearly four-to-one margin.
Coleman now leads by 358 votes, compared to his lead of 189 votes just a few days ago.
Of the 414 challenges by the Franken campaign reviewed by the five-member board since Tuesday, 233 were determined to be votes for Coleman.
That meant 56 percent of challenged ballots went to Coleman, compared to just 15 percent – or 64 votes – that were awarded to Franken.
Another 117 votes (28 percent of the total) proved impossible to allocate. Based on the markings on those ballots, voter intent could not be determined. Those votes will go to neither candidate.
Three political scientists who observed the proceedings and were interviewed by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune said that despite Coleman’s growing margin, it is too soon to predict the likely winner.
Wall Street Journal commentator and election expert John Fund agrees.
“You’re dealing with one side’s challenges, and then you move to the other side’s challenges, so I think these results today are largely meaningless” in terms of who will ultimately win the seat, he tells Newsmax.
The Canvassing Board has yet to review ballots that were challenged by Coleman, and most of those votes are expected to eventually be awarded to Franken. The awarding of those votes will begin Thursday.
Coleman’s campaign challenged some 1,000 votes. The election’s outcome could depend on how many of those votes are awarded to Franken in the days ahead.
The Canvassing Board has stated that it aims to complete its deliberations by Friday.
The “real struggle,” according to Fund, is the as-yet unresolved lawsuit filed by Coleman to stop the counting of all absentee ballots that were rejected on Election Day
State officials have estimated that as many as 1,600 absentee ballots were improperly rejected, and Coleman does not want the improperly rejected ballots to be added back into the final tallies, as the Canvassing Board requested election officials to do Monday.
Coleman’s attorneys are asking that the counting of rejected absentee ballots be stopped, and those votes set aside, pending the outcome of lawsuits that will inevitably be filed to contest the matter.
The Minnesota Supreme Court heard arguments in the Coleman lawsuit on Wednesday.
One concern voiced by the Coleman camp: Because the Canvassing Board cannot legally order that improperly rejected ballots be counted, some city and county officials will opt to do so, and others will not. Coleman’s attorneys warn that process could result in a “crazy quilt” of inconsistent practices.
Coleman’s attorneys also maintain local election officials need clear standards to help them determine which absentee ballots should be counted.
Justice Paul Anderson expressed concerns over the message that would send voters, however.
"Why should a voter who does cast a ballot that's valid have to bring a [legal] contest?" he asked. "That just doesn't seem right to me."
Fund, author of Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy, predicts the Minnesota election will initially hinge on rulings by the state Supreme Court.
If those decisions don’t lead to a Franken victory, and Coleman is certified the winner, Fund says the Democratic-dominated U.S. Senate could simply refuse to seat Coleman while it investigates whether the voting process was fair and the results accurate. Any such probe could drag on for months.
“The point is that nothing has happened that has changed my mind that Franken’s strategy is to count on Senate Democrats as the court of last resort,” Fund says. “That’s going to be the ploy.”
There is no word yet on when the Minnesota Supreme Court will rule on whether the counting of improperly rejected absentee ballots should continue.
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