Both campaigns pleased with recount so farby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio,
Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio,
Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
The Minnesota Secretary of State's office will update the vote tally this evening from the second day of the Senate recount. But it will still be weeks before the final outcome is clear.
On day two of the recount the campaigns of Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken are both saying they are pleased so far, not only with the process but with the initial numbers as well.
St. Paul, Minn. — At its daily recount briefing, the Franken campaign was all smiles, claiming that on day one it had picked numerous votes from many areas that trend Republican.
"From our standpoint, we have reason to be optimistic," said Franken attorney Mark Elias. "We are picking up votes across the state. Some places we are picking them up in big chunks, other places we are picking them up one or two at a time."
Elias says Franken gained more votes than the 43 documented by the Secretary of State last night.
The Franken campaign declined to provide an aggregate number of additional votes. But it did tick off several examples of places that it made progress, among them Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis counties.
A couple miles down University Ave., the Coleman campaign was also claiming to be pleased with the first day numbers. Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak wondered why the Franken people seemed so happy.
"I have to admit they're pretty optimistic or seem quickly optimistic, given that fact that we're actually feeling very good today about where we're at," said Knaak.
The Coleman side of the recount battle maintains that many of the places where the hand recount took place yesterday tend to favor Democrats, and Knaak says he was pleasantly surprised with the numbers.
"When I look at Hennepin County, when I look at St. Louis County, when I look at Ramsey County, I may see red. But I don't think that's necessarily red country and our analysis leads us to a different conclusion," said Knaak. "We were expecting ... the kind of ups and downs that you get in these kinds of recounts, and we thought that we were going to be in much more of a down phase than we are."
In the first day of counting, the official data from the Secretary of State showed that just one half of 1 percent of the recounted ballots were challenged by the two campaigns. The Franken side took issue with 106 ballots, while Coleman supporters contested 115.
Mark Elias from the Franken campaign accused Coleman observers of challenging ballots that clearly belong in the Franken stack.
"There are clearly some instances -- a significant number of instances -- where the Coleman campaign has challenged ballots which are clearly Franken votes," said Elias, "where there is no question that the Canvas Board is going to look at this ballot and determine that it was a Franken vote. We are concerned about that. It is something that we continue to pay attention to."
Fritz Knaak from the Coleman campaign said it's very likely some contested ballots do not belong in the contested pile, and he expects there will be an agreement to revisit some of those decisions so the State Canvassing Board does not have to make the call.
Knaak said there are problems with contested ballots on both sides.
"I've seen some of theirs, and I would certainly -- I'm not going to accuse them, let's just say they are pretty much no-brainer Coleman votes," said Knaak. "And I'm expecting that maybe there was some enthusiasm in one or two places, but we're not seeing a consistent pattern."
Around the state, ballot counting settled into a more of a routine on day 2.
In Ramsey County, election judges were instructed to inspect the back of ballot forms for any "identifiable marks."
County elections manager Joe Mansky said campaign workers made the request. If the mark showed "deliberate intent to identify the ballot," it could render the vote defective, he said.
Mansky said checking the back of the ballots was taking a little more time, "but it's not a huge deal."
Franken campaign volunteer Eric Margolis said he called into question a ballot that contained a complete signature.
"It was nice and fancy --- very cursive, and just very exclamatory. 'I voted, and this is my name,'" said Margolis.
But other challenges were not so clear.
For example, a Coleman volunteer asked Mansky for his opinion on a ballot where the voter had properly filled in an oval for Franken, but had also scribbled next to a referendum question: "I thought this was what the lottery was for!"
Mansky told the table that in his opinion, the comment was editorial, but not intended to identify the ballot.
On Wednesday, only one of about a dozen challenges was still standing by the end of the day. Attorneys with both campaigns withdrew most of their challenges after meeting with Mansky.
"We all sat down and looked at all of them, and I think they all collectively came to the opinion that the stray marks that were on those ballots were not sufficient enough to cause us not to count the votes as indicated by the voter. And I think that was the right thing to do," Mansky said.
A little wrinkle cropped up today in St. Louis County, as ballot counters are finding a few absentee ballots in stacks of counted ballots.
The absentee ballots aren't supposed to be there because the voting machines can't count the absentee ballots.
Election judges are supposed to make a duplicate ballot, mark it as a duplicate, and keep the absentee ballot in a separate pile.
If there's no ballot marked as a duplicate, there's no way to know whether a duplicate was made and counted or not.
Jim Gelbmann in the Secretary of State's office says when these cases are brought to the canvassing board, they will not count the original absentee ballot.
"We assume that the duplicates are there. But we don't want to double-count anyone's ballot, so therefore we would just count the duplicate ballot that is likely in that pile, as opposed to counting the original ballots that are in a separate envelope," said Gelbmann.
Between 10 percent and 15 percent more Minnesotans voted by absentee ballot in this year's election than in previous years.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie predicts that tonight's numbers could very well show that even more ballots were hand counted today than the 15.5 percent counted on the first day.
But Ritchie cautioned Minnesotans not to put too much weight on the running totals.
"The ballots are accumulating to the two candidates, but there's also a significant number of ballots in that challenge category," said Ritchie. "We won't know the disposition of the challenged ballots until the end. And we also won't know how all of the precincts and counties in the state will work out until the end, so buying plane tickets to Washington for swearing-in ceremonies would not be a good investment."
While Ritchie says the recount is efficiently progressing along, he notes that a handful of counties won't even begin their recounts until early December.
Each site is required to finish their work and report by Dec. 5. The State Canvassing Board will take up their results, and make rulings on disputed ballots, beginning Dec. 16. Litigation could drag a final resolution well into 2009.
- All Things Considered, 11/20/2008, 5:19 p.m.
Mark Zdechlik covers politics for MPR News.
Laura Yuen is a general assignment reporter covering the Twin Cities as part of MPR News' metro unit.