Q: Who's winning?
A: Al Franken. He wiped out the Coleman lead on election night during the recount and sits with a 49-vote lead. About 1,000 rejected absentee ballots are to be counted today by the Canvassing Board (they're just opening ballots as I write this, however, while waiting for a court ruling). The state Supreme Court ordered some of the absentee ballots to be included in the recount. You can watch it on The Uptake Web site.
Q: Most of the absentee ballots are from DFL-leaning areas, so Franken has this election in the bag, right?
A: Not necessarily, but the process is expected to only add to Franken's slim lead. Nate Silver of the Web site FiveThirtyEight.com says the prevailing wisdom is that the absentee votes will favor Franken:
If it proceeds unimpeded, the counting of absentee ballots is likely to bolster Franken's lead, as proportionately more rejected absentees were identified in counties won by Franken. If we simply allocate out the absentees in each county based on the proportion of the November 4th vote (.pdf) received by each candidate, that would imply 414 ballots for Franken, 383 for Coleman, and 156 for "other", adding 31 votes to Franken's lead.
(Update 6:19 p.m. Saturday: The lead actually expanded to 225 votes, according to The Uptake.)
Q: Can I play along?
A: Sure, here's the spreadsheet of absentee ballots.
Q: What will happen after these absentee votes are counted?
At some point, On Monday, the state Canvassing Board will declare a winner certify the results. A winner won't be declared for a week, giving the loser time to challenge the results. The results certainly will be challenged.
Q: And whoever wins will be our new senator who'll take his seat on Tuesday?
A: No, the Coleman campaign filed a motion with the State Supreme Court to try to get 650 more absentee ballots included in the recount. Those are from primarily Coleman-leading territory.
The court may decide today (and, in fact, it might well have already decided. You can check the court's Web site for documents here) .
Q: What's the problem behind the problem?
A: The State Supreme Court. It now has to try to solve the problem that it helped create by an order a few weeks ago that many considered flawed. The court was asked to rule on whether absentee ballots that had been rejected (allegedly) improperly by the counties, should be included in the recount that the State Canvassing Board was conducting. The Supreme Court -- without two of its members voting because they are on the Canvassing Board -- punted. It ordered some of the absentee ballots to be counted, but left it up to the Coleman and Franken campaigns, and county officials, to figure out which ones. It was a nightmare scenario that's turned into a nightmare.
Q:Who wins in this scenario?
Justice Alan Page, who gets to say "I told you so." In his dissent, Page wrote:
The court's order may seek the peaceful way out by asking the campaigns to agree on improperly rejected ballots, but the order does not guarantee that the candidates and their political parties will agree on any rejected ballots
Page saw the mess coming. So did everyone else.
Q: Who else wins?
A: The Uptake, which has emerged as Minnesota's Town Square on this issue, and has made watching paint dry interesting.
Q: What's the end game?
A: Coleman is now the underdog in this process and he's on his way to losing the election. There are enough twists and turns in the two months since Election Day that a lawsuit questioning the legitimacy of a Franken victory is a given. His team is assembling grievances that would be part of a lawsuit. There's also the claim that some ballots in this process have been counted twice.
Q: But Franken will be the senator until a court case works its way through the system?
A: Probably not. On Friday, a Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said he will mount a filibuster if Senate leaders try to seat Franken. It would take 60 votes to end a filibuster and the Democrats likely wouldn't have 60 votes. There's also a likely fight over Senate leaders' refusal to seat Roland Burris from Illinois. It's not the type of battle Democrats will want to have at the start of a new term, so they may not even try.
Q: Who is Minnesota's other senator besides Amy Klobuchar then?
A: There isn't one. The Constitution says the term of a senator ends at noon on the third day of January. That's today. Norm Coleman is no longer a U.S. senator.
Q: Isn't whoever is ultimately named senator mortally wounded politically?
A: Some people are already pointing out that the new senator will not have the support of the majority of voters, but with a strong third party in most races these days, most victors don't have the support of the majority of voters. Additionally, the Senate is a six-year term and voters have short memories, especially when there'll be plenty of votes taken over six years to define whoever gets the seat. Politically, in the Senate a vote is a vote and it doesn't matter how a senator got there.
Far more important in terms of Senate power is the issue of seniority. If it's Franken, he won't have any. If it's Coleman, he only has one term behind him.
Q: If this ends up in court, why doesn't one candidate just drop out?
A: Because there's more here than just the six year term of a senator. Whoever loses this race, has no future electability, especially if he's the one perceived to have dragged this process through the courts.
Q: Why doesn't Minnesota just have another election?
A: There are no provisions in state law for another election. It's possible the Legislature will use this mess to clean up some of its election laws.
Q: Who's in charge here?
A: That's one of the things that's been illuminated by this process. For years we've been told that the Secretary of State is the state's top election official, creating the impression that there is a single person at the top. That's not the case. Elections in Minnesota are controlled at the county level, so there are 87 different "people in charge" and 87 different ways of doing things.
Q: We're the new Florida now, aren't we?
A: Yes. What made Florida Florida in 2000 was that it became the butt of jokes. Minnesota has become the butt of jokes, the facts be damned. We can try to tell ourselves that we've had an open recount process and that nobody has uncovered evidence of wrongdoing, but people outside of Minnesota don't care. Perception is reality.
One unrelated piece of trivia: During the recount 1,672 votes were added to either Franken's or Coleman's original election night totals.