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AP Predicts Gains for Franken

The Associated Press has done the dirty work of sorting through more than 5,000 challenged ballots in the Minnesota Senate recount, and its analysis should inspire some confidence in supporters of Democrat Al Franken:

The AP’s examination of the remaining challenges found:

  • Fewer than half of the challenges left-about 1,640-are in genuine doubt. Still, that’s eight times more than the current margin between the two men.
  • In ballots that could easily be assigned, Franken netted 200 more votes than Coleman. But that number was essentially meaningless because Coleman has withdrawn significantly fewer challenges than Franken-that is, the pool of challenges that can be awarded to Franken at this stage is notably larger.
  • Nearly 300 challenges wouldn’t benefit either man because the voter clearly favored a third-party candidate or skipped the race.
  • Of the challenges that can’t be reliably awarded to either candidate now, more than 400 possible Franken votes are being held up because on grounds that those voters identified their ballots through write-ins, initials, signatures, phone numbers or some other distinctive marking. At least 300 possible Coleman votes are in limbo for the same reasons.
  • The next biggest class of ballot that can’t easily be awarded falls in the category of unclear voter intent. Nearly 600 involve cases where a voter filled in two ovals but crossed out one, put an X above or below their darkened oval or put differently sized partial marks in more than one. There are slightly more potential Franken ballots in that pile as well.

Now, as the AP explained, these numbers are subject to significant change and mean little on their own. This analysis included over 5,000 challenged ballots, but the Franken and Norm Coleman campaigns have withdrawn thousands of frivolous challenges, and the number of challenged ballots now stands at 3,497, down from its peak of 6,655. Over the weekend, the Franken campaign announced that it would reduce its challenges to fewer than 500 by Tuesday, and the Coleman camp followed suit and pledged to bring its number under 1,000. The state will begin reviewing these ballots on Tuesday.

So what’s the significance here? On December 3, the Franken campaign claimed the lead (by 22 votes, later revised to four) in the recount, while the official tally favored Coleman by a margin of 295 votes. The difference was in the methodology: while the official number excluded all challenged ballots, the Franken team’s number included the predicted outcome of the challenges, based on the election officials’ initial judgment.

As far as I’ve seen, the AP report is the first extensive third-party study of the challenged ballots, and even if the numbers change, it lends credence to the Franken camp’s expectation of significant gain when the challenges are resolved.

The Minnesota Secretary of State website now shows Coleman with a 188-vote lead. If the AP’s 200-vote-swing prediction is at all accurate, the challenged ballots could easily be the difference-maker in the race. And then of course there are all those absentee ballots that were improperly rejected but now seem likely to be counted. The Franken campaign is confident that it stands to gain from these ballots; that’s why it pushed so hard to have them included. In other words, everything that happens between now and the end of this process is likely to chip away at — and quite possibly reverse — Coleman’s small lead.

Let me put this whole jumble in more concrete terms: I just bet on Franken with the CEO of TWI’s publisher and gave him 2-1 odds. Donuts are on the line.

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