Incumbent GOP Sen. Norm Coleman’s otherwise dismal week ended on an upbeat note Friday, as he mounted a modest comeback in the recount and cut Democrat Al Franken’s lead to 251 votes.
Observers in attendance at the recount tell Newsmax that Coleman’s surge came as the Minnesota Canvassing Board restored ballots that had earlier been challenged by Franken. At one point Friday, Franken’s lead exceeded 275 votes.
The week’s events clearly represented a setback for Coleman, however.
He began the week with a 192-vote lead in the recount, which swelled to 358 votes. But as the review of Coleman challenges began Wednesday, Franken steadily narrowed the gap. He finally passed Coleman and took the lead shortly after 10 a.m. Eastern time on Friday.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Richie, who is presiding over the Canvassing Board activities, said at the conclusion of Friday’s business that almost all of the challenged ballots from both campaigns have now been reviewed.
Only a few additional challenges remain -- probably fewer than 100.
The next step in the process will be a determination by the Canvassing Board on how to allocate several thousand ballots in which challenges were withdrawn. Those ballots must be added back into the totals.
Some media outlets have reported that the Minneapolis Star-Tribune is “projecting” Al Franken the winner, but the newspaper’s editors are taking pains to distance themselves from any such reports.
Political editor D.J. Tice, for example, tells Newsmax that errors in ballot data being provided by the Minnesota Secretary of State are complicating efforts to predict the outcome, and he adds that thousands of ballots have yet to be counted. The newspaper’s analysis relies in part on input from 20,000 readers, who look at ballots online and decide to which candidate the votes will be awarded.
“It’s a sophisticated computer game we’ve had 20,000 people play,” Tice says of the newspaper’s analysis. “We think it’s enlightening, but the problem is that the Secretary of State’s data is still messed up, so we can’t be as sure as we’d like.”
Of greater concern to Coleman may be the steady barrage of rulings by election officials and judges that have gone against him.
The latest Canvassing Board ruling permits the counting of duplicate ballots. The Coleman camp believes as many as 150 ballots already may have been counted. (It turns out that when some ballots could not be passed through a scanning machine on Election Day, a duplicate vote was created.)
Friday, the Canvassing Board decided any Coleman request that the votes not be counted must be addressed by what Board Chairman Mark Ritchie called “another forum” – presumably a court of law.
Later in the day Coleman’s attorneys asked the state’s Supreme Court to block the Canvassing Board from including the duplicate ballots in the vote totals. The Supreme Court partially agreed to that request, which means those votes ultimately may have to be adjudicated by lawsuits rather than the Canvassing Board.
Thursday, Minnesota’s Supreme Court established Dec. 31 as the date by which the Franken and Coleman camps must agree on uniform standards to be given to city and county election officials to help them determine which absentee ballots may have been improperly rejected.
Those improperly rejected ballots are expected to number as many as 1,600. It is unclear, however, what steps the Supreme Court would take if the two parties are unable to agree by year’s end.
The U.S. Senate has established Jan. 6 as the date by which it will convene to seat its new members.
“We encourage everyone to just hang on until the process is finished,” Coleman Communications Director Mark Drake told the media Friday. “When it is finished, Norm Coleman will still lead, and we believe, be re-elected to the United States Senate.”
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