The counting of improperly rejected absentee ballots will probably increase Democratic challenger Al Franken’s lead over incumbent GOP Sen. Norm Coleman according to a new analysis of voting trends, effectively relegating Coleman to filing lawsuits considered unlikely to reverse the outcome of the election.
Franken is currently leading the recount by 50 votes, after the State Canvassing Board added four more votes to his total on Tuesday. Nearly 3 million ballots were cast.
The problem for Coleman: The improperly rejected ballots appear to come disproportionately from counties where voters favored Franken. The Associated Press has estimated that nearly 10 percent of the ballots come from Democratic-leaning areas in Minneapolis.
Similarly, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that officials in areas considered strongholds for Franken have identified significantly more absentee ballots to be counted, compared to areas that favored Coleman.
Sarah Cherry, an election-law analyst closely observing the recount for the Moritz School of Law at Ohio University, tells Newsmax that Coleman’s last best hope would be to battle things out in the courts if the newspaper’s analysis proves accurate.
“If Franken gains a lot of votes from these absentees, it may be too high a hurdle for Coleman,” Cherry says.
In a bid to counter the trends working against him, Coleman is asking that another 654 ballots from more rural areas be added back into the universe of improperly rejected absentee votes.
Franken attorney David Lilliehaug reacted sharply to Coleman’s request. He charged the Coleman campaign “made clear they have little interest in participating in the process set forth by the Supreme Court to ensure that Minnesotans are not improperly disenfranchised.”
Coleman spokesman Mark Drake countered by telling TheHill.com: “It is clear the Franken campaign’s mantra about wanting to count every vote was just empty rhetoric,”
Coleman initially opposed counting any absentee votes rejected on Election Day. The state Supreme Court, which has set Monday, Jan. 5 as the date by which wrongly rejected ballots must be counted, has directed local election officials to decide which ballots should be counted.
The Star-Tribune analysis is based on voting trends in precincts that improperly rejected 93 percent of the absentee ballots officials now say should have been counted on Election Day.
The analysis of 1,251 ballots shows 696 of them come from precincts where Franken out polled Coleman. That compares to 555 ballots emerging from areas where Coleman beat Franken.
In other words, the trends so far suggest that when the smoke settles and the absentee ballots are counted, Franken’s margin is likely to grow. Some ballots from GOP strongholds were not included in the newspaper’s breakdown, however.
A series of regional meetings will begin today throughout the state to determine which absentee ballots to include in the recount.
Coleman’s attorneys have consistently maintained he will eventually emerge the winner. If Franken maintains or increases his lead during the counting of absentee ballots, it would be a major blow to Coleman’s hopes of reelection.
“I cannot say whether the end result will flip back to Coleman,” Cherry tells Newsmax. “But I'm leaning toward thinking that Coleman's hurdles are very high.”
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