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Good news for Senate recount junkies: Some officials will be working through weekend

Breathe easy, all of you Senate soap opera junkies who feared you’d have to go a whole 48 hours without a new vote count to ponder or without a news/spin conference to cheer or hiss.

The count will go on through Saturday at several spots around the state. There are rumblings that there might even be some Sunday counting.  All of this activity is an effort by some local elections officials to free their volunteers for the Thanksgiving week.

By Saturday night, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said he expects that 75 percent of the nearly 3 million ballots will have been counted.

But that doesn’t mean the end of the race between Al Franken and Sen. Norm Coleman is near.  Several counties won’t even BEGIN the recount process until the first week in December.

Canvassing board to meet Wednesday on absentee ballots
Then, there is the matter of how the state’s canvassing board will deal with all of those rejected absentee ballots. The board is to meet Wednesday morning in the State Office Building to begin serious discussions of how to decide the fate of the rejects.

Beyond that, there is a growing pile of challenged ballots. Entering Saturday’s counting, that pile had grown to more than 700 ballots and Ritchie expects the total to grow to around 1,600 when the recount is concluded.  A Dec. 16 meeting has been scheduled by the canvassing board to discuss challenges.

Clearly, many of these challenges are frivolous.

At dueling spin conferences today, first the Franken campaign and then the Coleman campaign showed reporters ballots the “other guys” had challenged for no apparent reason.

The indigination at both campaign headquarters was impressive.

“They’re making frivolous challenges!” both sides said of the other guys.

Both campaigns had evidence to back their claims.

The Franken folks showed ballots from southeastern Minnesota that had been challenged by Coleman volunteers for no other apparent reason than a voter had voted for “McCain-Palin” for president and “Franken” for Senate.

The Coleman folks had 51 ballots from Meeker County on the wall at their headquarters under the heading “Franken’s Frivolous Follies.”  In some cases, these ballots had been challenged apparently because a voter had not filled in the circle next to the candidate’s name, but rather had used an x through the circle. Voter intent—the key guideline in all of this – was obvious.

Cullen Sheehan, Coleman’s weary-looking campaign manager, tried to make the case that Franken supporters are challenging at an increasing rate. But his claim lacked real pop, given that Coleman volunteers have challenged nearly the same number, perhaps slightly more, ballots.

Sheehan admitted there are “volunteers who get a little too excited” when it comes to issuing a challenge. He predicted that both campaigns will withdraw a substantial number of challenges before the canvassing board starts sorting through the challenged ballots.

So why these daily dueling conferences? In the end, it’s going to be the counts, the canvassing board and, perhaps, the courts that decide, no matter what is said during the process.

“We just want the truth out there,” said Sheehan.

And, of course, that’s what the Franken people are saying, too.

Political jockeying seen as way to excite supporters, raise funds
But there’s likely a strong financial reason for all this effort at “truth.”  At his afternoon press briefing, Ritchie implied that the spinning likely has a lot to do with both campaigns trying to raise money to pay for their respective recount costs.

It’s important, then, for supporters of Franken and Coleman to believe the count is going splendidly for their guy. Who wants to contribute to a loser?

Sure enough, both sides continue to insist that the way the count is going is favoring (fill-in-the blank).  The Franken peoples said today that their data show that Franken now trails Coleman by fewer than 100 votes. Coleman’s people claim Coleman holds a 138-vote lead but with heavily Republican counties still uncounted.

And on it goes.

Ritchie did say the recount is going well.

“I thought this would take longer,” Ritchie said. “I thought there would be a greater number of challenges, and I didn’t expect the mood in the room (where Coleman and Franken observers watch counts) to be as collegial as it’s been. Given the emotion of this, basically people I’ve heard from are saying they’re satisfied with what they’re seeing.”

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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