Franken-Coleman recount: Al whips Norm in absentee ballot count, and end is near … it sure seems

Al Franken

MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Al Franken, shown on Election Night, now appears to be close to victory following today’s count of rejected absentee ballots.

It was practically hypnotic.

Hear the word “Franken” 481 times and it will make you dizzy.

If you’re Norm Coleman and his advocates, it will definitely get your head spinning and your mood changing.

”Obviously … I’ve had better days, and so have we,” said Fritz Knaak, Coleman’s top lawyer, after today’s tabulation of formerly rejected absentee ballots.

Soon after, when asked about a legal contest beyond the count, Knaak seemed to back off from his pretty strong fightin’ words Friday about a legal contest.

At that time, he had said, “An election challenge is inevitable. There’s no doubt in my mind, that’s the case.”

Barely 24 hours later, he said, “If necessary … we are prepared to go forward to take whatever legal action necessary to remedy this artificial lead …”

Was he suggesting the end-game litigation by Coleman won’t happen?

“You always give yourself a little wiggle room,” Knaak said, still adding that, really, yes, they were going to take this to court.

Still, he added even more, “You always allow yourself a chance to reflect.”

Like a good soldier, he said, “We’re still expecting to come out on top.”

But exactly how remains the mystery of the weekend because today was a very bad day for Norm Coleman.

Al whips Norm in today’s count
That’s because Al Franken — to use a sports term, sorry — pummeled Coleman today, when the previously rejected absentee ballots were counted, 481-305, enough to lift his overall lead to 225 votes.

He’s no Jimmy Stewart, but with today’s count, “Mr. Franken Goes to Washington” may be the former comedy writer’s next sketch.

The 225-vote margin is what the State Canvassing Board will see come Monday. Barring an unforeseen interception by another Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, it appears as if Franken will have the most votes when the board meets.

“It was a very important and great day,” said Franken lawyer Marc Elias. “We are confident since there are no ballots left to count that the final margin will stand with Al Franken having won the election … It is not a large margin, but a comfortable margin … 225 votes is a real victory. One vote is a real victory, but 225 votes is a close election but it is a fairly clear victory.”

But back to the dizzying Saturday, which started at 9 a.m. and meandered all the way to 5:45 p.m.

Hypnotic happenings
Call it hypnosis.

For the final hour or so, it was as if Secretary of State Elections Director Gary Poser was some sort of guru, and his mantra was “Franken, Franken, Franken.”

That’s what the 40 or so spectators in Room 10 of the State Office Building witnessed as Poser counted what turned out to be 933 previously rejected absentee ballots that have been at the center of this recount.

It is a recount that in 48 hours, may be, could be, possibly, over.

The numbers could even make it difficult for Coleman to take the matter to court, an inevitability that many of us have been writing and chattering about for weeks.

But Secretary of State Mark Ritchie had a prediction today after the count ended.

“I don’t think there will be a contest,” Ritchie said. “I’ve said it from the beginning. This is so accurate and done so carefully that person with the least vote is going to say, ‘I’m disappointed, I’m sad, but I came in short this time.’ “

It fit into the itsy-bitsy hedge mode that Knaak displayed.

The day
In the end, it took nearly eight hours for envelope opening and some legal wrangling to hear what Al Franken’s side suspected all along. That they’d be ahead.

But even Elias, who has been eerily correct on the numbers in this marathon, said he was surprised by how much Franken took the absentee ballot pile.

“We didn’t know what we were going to get, but I felt good that we were going to do OK,” he said. “We obviously gained more than we thought we would.”

First, at 9 a.m., Norm Coleman’s lawyer, Tony Trimble, tried to suspend the counting of the previously rejected absentee ballots, citing a bad process of separating the ballots and impending Minnesota Supreme Court decisions.

He also sought to link up the top “secrecy” envelope with the inner ballot envelope to keep track for future legal contests.

After an hour of consultation with the attorney general’s office, the handling of ballots began … but first envelopes were separated and matched and then ballots were removed from the envelopes. It was tedious, but it was done to protect the privacy of voters.

That took nearly six hours, with lunch in there somewhere.

Meanwhile, at 11:01 a.m., Sen. Norm Coleman went into hiatus. His term ended with the 110th Congress. There is no one in the Minnesota Senate seat … for now.

After more fastidious opening and examining of ballots by lawyers for both sides, at about 4:50, Poser began reading the ballots:

“Franken, Franken, Franken, Franken, Barkley, Barkley, Franken, Franken … Coleman, undervote, Franken, Franken, Franken …”

Franken was winning these absentee ballots as if his last name were Obama.

On the right side of the seating section in Room 10, the Coleman operatives grimly looked down at their legal pads and laptops. The results must have been disheartening.

The Franken group — some in the front rows, some in the back — silently tallied the spoils of the voters who chose to cast their ballots early or from distant locales.

What’s next?
What’s left is that potential legal challenge to it all from the Coleman side. Some Supreme Court rulings. Then a meeting Monday afternoon of the State Canvassing Board.

The basis of Coleman’s potential legal contest in the courts?

Lawyer Tony Trimble raises the issue of 600 or so absentee ballots that weren’t counted. He says the Franken campaign has stopped them. But Ritchie and others note that the Minnesota Supreme Court allowed each campaign to reject some ballots. Besides, the 600 or so votes Trimble is talking about weren’t approved by local election officials either.

Then there are the 133 missing ballots from the Minneapolis church polling place. And the alleged duplicate ballots.

The Coleman lawyers said there “could be” as many as 300 or 400 votes out there for their guy.

But 225. That’s a real number now.

It’s not a measly 46. It’s three digits. It’s a mile for Coleman to catch up with only one big step for Franken to take Monday.

Which raises the question: Will Coleman challenge this now?

Saturday, Coleman’s lawyers declared — with a noticeable stepping back on the rhetoric — that it was a no-brainer that a legal contest was nigh. Knaak said the decision wouldn’t be his, but he’d recommend the challenge. He’ll have to be more enthusiastic when he does so with Sen. Coleman.

But if the former St. Paul mayor, gubernatorial candidate and (now seriously trailing) Sen. Coleman wants to run again in this state, does he really want to take this election to court?

Is it worth the time and money and possibility of looking like a sore loser?

It will be difficult to say the election was “stolen,” although some partisans will. Maybe even Coleman will.

But, as Ritchie said today, the difference between this recount and Florida’s Gore vs. Bush recount is “apples and oranges” … make that HoneyCrisps and oranges, sir.

Will this all end Monday? Or should Coleman’s campaign take the last, final, politically dangerous step?

It’s a question that must now be sadly floating in the conversations of Coleman advisers, supporters and the senator himself whose seat became vacant at 11 a.m. today and might — just might — be changing ownership soon.

Jay Weiner can be reached at jweiner [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Kelly Wing on 01/03/2009 - 09:18 pm.

    Well, well, well!

    I am so happy that Al seems to have won. His hard-earned victory now confirms the fraud that has ocurred. Are my grapes sour just a bit? Sure, but his “comeback” has no statistical merits whatsoever and is the final nail in the coffin on two fronts. First, MN elections are a sham and we’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re doing things correctly. The votes he gained and the manner in which he got them have no precedent and are not in line with how precints voted. The inconsistency in the allowing and disallowing of votes should be enough to make even the dishonest man blush and admit that Franken’s associates had a hand in changing ballots. Second, Republicans / Conservatives (not necessarily the same)NEED to wake up and get moving. Yes, we’re busy living our lives based on the beliefs we espouse which in tuen causes us to simply not have the same time that liberals have to be political and sneaky. No matter who you wanted to win, this is a pinnacle moment for all of us. The process needs to be revamped so that cheating will not occur again.

  2. Submitted by Richard Mensing on 01/03/2009 - 09:54 pm.

    I wonder how surprising today’s count really was.
    The Democrats made a concerted effort in Minnesota and other states to get their supporters to cast early ballots. That the absentee ballots broke Franken’s way by a substantial margin might indicate that even the cherry-picked “600 or so absentee ballots that weren’t counted” might not provide Coleman much of a boost.

    The one thing that Coleman is good at (a master with few peers) is being disingenuos. During the recount his campaign succeeded in creating an artificial lead because of frivolous challenges. They also succeeded (along with the media’s help) in getting voters to expect a long drawn out process. Therefore, I don’t think Coleman and the RNC view the “election was stolen argument” as politically dangerous. Besides trashing-the-process has worked in the past so why not now? Then, too,it’s basically all they have left.

    The problem is that this time the process has been exceedingly transparent- available for everyone to watch at theuptake. The other problem are the facts- 225 of them.

  3. Submitted by Jennifer Albright on 01/04/2009 - 09:56 am.

    I have to say I’m impressed with how the recount has been performed. It has been transparent, thoughtful and bi-partisan.

    I’m glad MN law mandates a recount in this type of situation. As we can see while our election process is pretty good it is possible to make errors. And in this case those errors made a difference because the margin was so small.

    This election was not ‘stolen’ by Al Franken. He was consistent in wanting all valid votes to be counted. He challenged fewer votes than Norm Coleman and was willing to allow all absentee ballots that had been classified as wrongly rejected. Norm Coleman went from wanting Franken to concede when Coleman was ahead to saying he will challenge in court.

    Hopefully this process will be over soon and MN can be fully represented in the Senate.

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/04/2009 - 01:50 pm.

    Same old same old ….
    We’re hearing that the only way a Democrat can win is by cheating.
    The fact of the matter is that if there is actually evidence of cheating on the part of the DFL (as opposed to the GOP) the Republican-dominated Supreme Courts will surely invalidate the election and either give it to Coleman or require a revote (not just a runoff).
    We’ll see, but I doubt it.
    It would just put the final nail in a discredited political party.

  5. Submitted by Rosalie O'Brien on 01/04/2009 - 02:30 pm.

    Ms. Wing’s allegations of “fraud” and “changed ballots,” in a process so transparent, should not be dignified by a response; this is only a comment. It’s interesting to remember today that Norm Coleman not only claimed victory on November 5, but also suggested that it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money to undertake the statutorily mandated recount. As most politicians would have been far more tempered in their public statements at a time like that, one wonders what lay behind his approach. At best, it would have been a “let’s grab it and run” mindset–one more example of un-senatorial behavior. The people of Minnesota have been extremely well-served by this process, and are rightly proud of, and grateful to, all of the officials and volunteers who have worked so hard to bring it to this conclusion.

  6. Submitted by RuthAlice Anderson on 01/04/2009 - 02:59 pm.

    Coleman should think long and hard before pursuing this further in the courts. He’s the sort of semi-centrist Republican who could have a futre if the GOP ever decides to go for viability again and rejects their Southern strategy and the far-right crazies running the party now.

    But he won’t have any political future whatsoever if he denies MN a senator for a few weeks or months to indulge his sore loser tantrums.

  7. Submitted by Patrick Guernsey on 01/04/2009 - 08:43 pm.

    Dear Norm:

    It was real and fun, but not real fun!
    I for one am glad that the “empty suit”
    is gone!

  8. Submitted by Eddie H-J on 01/04/2009 - 10:50 pm.

    does anyone know what time and where the board is meeting tomorrow?

  9. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 01/05/2009 - 12:26 am.

    Conservatives proposing conspiracy theories have no idea if the results make no statistical sense. They’re just repeating the current GOP talking points. Come on people, at least learn some basic math before making these nonsensical statements. Over 2.9 million votes, and a change of 450 — that’s still an incredibly accurate initial tally. Look at prior elections and the changes when election night totals were corrected, and this senate race was remarkable for its accuracy.

    Or maybe you’re the same people who think you can buy a few more tickets and be sure of winning the lottery.

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