This afternoon the State Canvassing Board started the long-awaited review of challenged ballots. In the first two hours, it seems to be going well for the Franken campaign as several of their challenges were accepted, resulting in either Sen. Norm Coleman losing a vote or Al Franken gaining.
By my rough count, Franken’s challenges prevailed in 10 of the first 26 cases considered.
But the board is dealing today only with Franken challenges. So until the board deals with Coleman’s challenges later this week, it won’t be clear if Franken is really gaining ground.
The board proceeded quickly and unanimously on most but not all of the challenges.
The first breaks in the unanimity of the board occurred in a couple of the early votes. There was a 4-to-1 vote that favored Coleman with Ramsey County Judge Edward Cleary in dissent, and later a 4-to-1 vote that favored Franken with Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson in dissent. People looking for partisan influence will want to keep track of these split votes to see if a clear pattern emerges.
Before the counting started, Coleman lawyer Tony Trimble again raised the issue of duplicate ballots, pushing for the board to change the way they were counted on Election Night. Trimble said the Coleman campaign could show that at least 131 ballots were double counted.
Franken lawyer Marc Elias said the policy on duplicate ballots was established before the election and the time to object was then.
The board heard the brief arguments but made no decision and is not dealing today with any challenges that involve the duplicate-ballot issue.
At this point, the Franken campaign has 441 challenges where voter intent is the issue.
Elise said there are another 339 ballots that Franken will challenge if the board decides to get involved in “incident reports,” where the argument is about things that happened on Election Night rather than the marks on the ballots. But Elias said he assumes the board won’t take up incident issues from either campaign, and those controversies may end up in the courts.
Today the board is trying to get through Franken’s 441 voter-intent challenges quickly.
The board took Franken’s challenges first because Coleman is still working on withdrawing some of his challenges. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie hopes to be done with all the ballot challenges Friday.
The state Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing for noon Wednesday to consider Coleman’s complaints about the way improperly disqualified absentee ballots are being handled.
The canvassing board plans to adjourn by 5:30 today.