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More Minnesota Math or: How the Coleman Camp Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Challenge

In a previous post, I ran some calculations to explain why it’s not in Sen. Norm Coleman’s interest to allow all of the improperly rejected absentee ballots to be counted in the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota. Basically, if the voting patterns follow the election-night trends, challenger Al Franken will gain a net 52 votes to give him a 98-vote lead.

However, Coleman is blocking the inclusion of about a third of the absentee ballots from Franken-friendly areas, such as St. Louis County. So far, Franken’s been taking the high ground and pushing for all 1,346 ballots in question to be counted — but if the Coleman campaign keeps cherry-picking ballots, Franken might have to change his strategy.

Sixty percent of these rejected absentee ballots come from five counties whose voters have favored Franken 57 percent of the time. If all of the ballots from these counties are included, Franken stands to gain 112 net votes. But if Coleman blocks a third of them, Franken will net just 75 votes, bringing his lead to 121.

Then we come to the remaining 40 percent of the ballots, in counties where Coleman holds an approximate 56-44 advantage. If the ballots hew to the Nov. 4 trends, Coleman can expect to pick up 60 votes. That would cut Franken’s lead to 61 votes — probably a bit too close for comfort for the Franken team, especially when Coleman’s lawyers have all sorts of challenges planned. And if Coleman gets 61 percent of the votes in these counties, the race will be a virtual tie.

Mind you, these back-of-the-envelope (or, more accurately, front-of-the-vastly-overdue-electric-bill) calculations are speculative. But they do show that the moral high ground is a potentially dangerous place for Franken to be, when the low road is paved with net vote gains. If the Franken campaign is hoping to gain legitimacy and public support through its honesty, let it be forewarned that these benefits could quickly evaporate if Franken is forced to contest the election.

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