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Minnesota Senate Recount Looms

POSTED: 04:08 PM ET, 11/13/2008 by Derek Kravitz

And you thought Florida 2000 was close.

One of the most closely-watched Senate races in memory is set to begin its next chapter -- an exhaustive, hand-by-hand recount of nearly 2.9 million ballots cast in Minnesota on Election Day.

Sen. Norm Coleman, the one-term incumbent Republican, has a 206-vote lead over his Democratic challenger Al Franken, a former comedian, well within the half-of-one-percent margin to trigger an automatic recount.

The race has already been deemed the most expensive congressional contest in the country, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. (Coleman raised $19 million and Franken about $17 million, Federal Election Commission reports show.)

Coleman has claimed victory and urged Franken to cancel the recount; Franken refused, citing alleged voting irregularities at some polling places in Minneapolis. He noted "a recount could change the outcome significantly," according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

The hand-by-hand recount is expected to stretch into at least mid-December, Minnesota's secretary of state announced. Daily updates on the recount goings-on can be found on a soon-to-be-constructed government Web site. A politically-diverse panel has been appointed to a state canvassing board to see that the recount goes smoothly.

But both campaigns are taking no chances, with Franken's camp suing for access to data on voters who had their absentee ballots rejected, The Associated Press reports, and both teams ushering in lawyers and donors to help sway the vote their way.

Potentially, the most contentious part of the entire process will be the certification of "challenged" ballots, in which the canvassing board will have to determine a voter's intent. (Minnesota's 18-page 2008 Recount Guide (pdf) notes that out-of-place marks made on ballots should be counted if ther are "close enough to a name or line to determine voter intent.")

If a 2006 recount practice run in Minnesota is any indication, a hand recount could alter the numbers substantially. In that race, auditors reviewed votes in about 5 percent of the state's 4,123 precincts. Among 94,073 votes cast in the U.S. Senate race in those precincts, the audit found 53 discrepancies, an error rate of .00056 percent.

Applying those same totals to the 2,885,502 votes cast in this year's race and you get a potential error total of roughly 1,626 votes.

(Here's an update on the other undecided Senate race,. Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich now holds an 814-vote lead over longtime Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Stevens, with 35,000 more ballots to count over the next week, the Anchorage Daily News reports.)

By Derek Kravitz |  November 13, 2008; 4:08 PM ET
Previous: Cleaner E-Mail? Thank Spammer Shut-Down | Next: Transition Watch, Sen. Stevens' Fate, Wall Street Bucks Regulation


Please email us to report offensive comments.

This is one of those quirky Minnesota electoral dilemmas. You had a third party candidate drawing 15%, even though he had no shot at winning. And Minnesota law permits voter registration on the day of the election, further confusing the issue. Apparently a number of folks showed up at polling places who'd already run out of registration forms, and it's entirely possible those votes would have altered the result.

Another weird thing is that Franken is a native Minnesotan who went off to seek his fortune as a young man, while Norm Coleman is a New Yorker who came to the Land of Lakes to seek a political future. Coleman even started out as a Democrat and switched parties.

No matter how the count turns out, the State will have discord and resentment for years to come...

Posted by: Samson151 | November 13, 2008 5:35 PM

This is amazing - 209 vote difference out of 2.9 million votes cast. Wow! It just goes to show that each one of our votes can make a difference. However it turns out, it is clear that neither Franken nor Coleman can claim a "mandate."

Posted by: rob15 | November 13, 2008 6:08 PM

Interesting points. How should a Senator who gets his seat in such a close and ambiguous vote represent his state? It's a tough problem.

Posted by: pressF1 | November 13, 2008 6:49 PM

Republicans are notorious for rigging the vote. Al should check every single registration and ballot to ensure that there is no foul play. Winning, not stealing, the vote is first and foremost.

Posted by: inewsmaster | November 13, 2008 7:52 PM

inewsmaster - You must be too young to remember the elections stolen by the Democrats (by Kennedy who was elected by numerous dead voters in Illinois and LBJ who stole his first election in Texas). It might be interesting to match the absentee votes with the voting roles of University towns, where students have been assured that no one can track if they vote twice, in their hometown and the University town if they are out of state..

Posted by: Ethicist | November 13, 2008 8:21 PM

I, for one, do remember the irregularities Ethicist mentions. I also am aware of poll taxes, city precinct bosses, and other past irregularities. No matter which party was responsible for such in the past, it is still wrong for anybody today to try to keep eligible voters from voting and to prevent their votes from being counted.

Today that is a hallmark of the Republican Party, like it or not. Those of us who are Republicans should express disapproval of such activities, if we believe in democracy.

Posted by: MathMan1 | November 13, 2008 11:44 PM

Republican "Ethicist"(an obvious oxymoron) is of course wrong & guilty of speading disinformation much like his hero, Dick Nixon. The facts regarding the 1960 presidential election in Illinois are these: the official recount that concluded Dec. 9, 1960 concluded that 863 precincts showed the original tally undercounted Nixon's votes by a mere 943, (far from the 4,500 needed to alter the results) while in 40% of the rechecked precincts, Nixon's vote was OVERCOUNTED. Moreover, a 1961 study by three University of Chicago professors, asw ell as a recent study by political scientist Edmund Kallina confirmed that whatever fraud existed wasn't substantial enough to alter the election. Addtionally, the truth is simply that whatever votes went for Kennedy in Cook County were more than offset by fraudulent Republican votes downstate. Nixon lost. Period.

Posted by: Citizen121 | November 14, 2008 1:48 AM

Is it not time the Us became more Demorcratic and became like most of the free world and allowed everyone to vote, take away all the so called restrictions that are placed on people, become more open and take away all politicle interference in the voting structure, why should anyone have to who they would support, ballots are a secret thing that should only be between the voter and their ballot paper. Allow all the people to register to vote and only allow politicle parties to be represented at the count to ensure the count is fair.

Posted by: rlbradley | November 14, 2008 4:38 AM

Where did you get the 209 vote difference from? Everything account I've seen in the past 5 - 6 days has said the difference is 206 votes.

Posted by: cswest3 | November 14, 2008 4:45 PM

Very odd also that the most errors in Coleman's favor and the most discounted votes comes from the county that is overwhelming republican...makes you wonder.

Posted by: msealock | November 14, 2008 8:34 PM

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