FiveThirtyEight.com: Franken’s recount challenges are higher quality

There are two big recount stories we know of in the coming week — the Canvass Board’s decision on allowing improperly rejected absentee ballots, and details of the ballots already challenged.

I want to focus on that second group. I’ve talked this around with some Democrats who are knowledgeable but not paid to be shills. Even though the Coleman and Franken campaigns have made about the same number of challenges, they believe more Franken challenges will stick.

One reason — and I haven’t had a chance to run this by the Coleman camp — is that Franken has more boots on the ground in recount rooms. You can’t underestimate the tediousness of the process, I was told, and fresh eyes are hugely important to catching what nearly are needles in haystacks, despite some excess challenging zeal on both sides.

Remember, these Dems aren’t shills. I asked for predictions, excluding the absentee ballots question. They provided a big qualifier — it’s so close no one really knows — but said they’d guess Al would lose by less that 50.

We’re starting to get some interesting numercial analyses that get at the quality question. As usual, one of the first comes from FiveThirtyEight.com’s Nate Silver.

Nate has tacked around the question of who’ll win — again, it’s friggin’ close, and we’re only now narrowing the universe of uncertainties — but he says, with many qualifiers, that Franken will wind up the 27-ballot winner.

That’s the headline, but again, even Silver acknowledges margins are so skinny that tiny uncertainties can upend a victory call. What’s more important is his paradigm.

Silver noticed that Franken has picked up the most votes from the precincts with the fewest challenges. If I understand this right, places with fewer challenges provide a more honest look at how votes will fall after Canvass Board vetting. (Low-challenge places aren’t subject to the game-playing of high-challenge places.)

Applying the low-challenge margins to the high-challenge precincts pushes Franken across the finish line by 27.

Or not. But Silver regards Franken as a very slight favorite.

Now, again, this is only a first whack at using a mathmatical formula to divine quality. Like a poll, it’s a prediction of actual results, not the actual result itself.

(Michael Brodkorb, at Minnesota Democrats Exposed, already has Silver in his gunsights, noting that the stat guru is tainted as a big Daily Kos contributing liberal. That guilt-by-association ignores a rather compelling objective fact: Silver predicted 49 of 50 states right in the presidential race and got the popular vote right to within tenths of a percentage point. Sometimes facts have a liberal bias; again, Silver notes the uncertainty in his new analysis.)

This week should bring a much more systematic look at the actual ballots, and the cumulative pattern of challenges, not just the press-conference anecdotes that entertained us in the past week.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Dave Kliman on 11/23/2008 - 09:28 pm.

    This is why all you reporters should ask the SOS to scan in and post EVERY challenged ballot to their website, as soon as they can, so we all can be the judge, just like on that very well designed MPR page.

    Ideally, I’d like to see a website with all the challenged ballots, and a poll next to them, so users can vote. Then lets see what the consensus is after many tens of thousands of people have taken a look.

    What I really want to see, is if there are a significant number of Franken Challenges that obviously would stand up, to counter all the Coleman ones that obviously won’t.

  2. Submitted by Tony Wagner on 11/24/2008 - 09:44 am.

    Dave,

    That would be neat in theory, and even though it would be non-binding, it still has a lot of potential for abuse (i.e. supporters trying to “stuff the virtual ballot box” in favor of their candidate’s challenges), and as such, it would be almost completely useless. As much as I always value public input, I would hope that the esteemed canvassing board would not need to look to a suspect web poll to help determine their judgments.

    Plus, both sides are in theory reviewing and revoking some of their more frivolous challenges as we speak, so there is little use in try to post all the challenged ballots immediately — it would almost certainly give a false impression of the quality of such ballots.

    As it is, the Secretary of State is collecting the challenged ballots and will release scans of them once the canvassing board is set to deal with them. That seems to be about the best compromise between disclosure and necessity.

  3. Submitted by Luke Grundman on 11/24/2008 - 11:59 am.

    Comparing the quality of the two candidates’ challenges may predict the outcome, but it misses a larger point, one consistently missed by commentators of both the mainstream press and blogosphere.

    I trained as a poll “challenger” for the Obama campaign, but was told that challenging would constitute no part of our job. Our side sought to protect the vote for every voter, no matter whether she drove a Hummer with a Taxpayers League bumper sticker or a Prius covered in “Wellstone!”.

    Why did the Franken campaign–a subscriber to that mindset when employed by Obama–drop it when it came to the recount? “Because the other side is doing it” didn’t suffice as a justification for our new president; it shouldn’t for one hoping to serve him in the Senate.

  4. Submitted by Nate Arch on 11/24/2008 - 05:34 pm.

    Why even mention Brodkorb? He’s either wrong or irrelevant in this case so why link?

  5. Submitted by Dean Carlson on 11/25/2008 - 02:52 pm.

    A comparison of David’s article to that found in the Strib is point number one why the dead tree version of the news is becoming less and less relevant to this reader.

    David mentions Brodkorb’s complaints about 538.com but then points out 538’s Nate Silver’s accuracy in the predicting the results of the presidential election. The Strib just mentions Brodkorb’s complaints without any of the background.

    Which article provided more context and information to the reader to make an informed decision about Brodkorb’s complaints?

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