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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

UPDATED, 9:15 PM Central

According to data just released by the Minnesota Secretary of State, Al Franken has gained a net of 43 votes on the first day of that state’s recount process. Norm Coleman had a lead of 215 voters over Franken in Minnesota’s certified, pre-recount tally; that margin is now 172 votes.

Minnesota reports that it has thus far re-counted 15.49 percent of its ballots. If the first day’s results are indicative of the pace that the candidates will maintain throughout the recount process, Franken would gain a net of 278 votes over Coleman, giving him a narrow victory. For any number of reasons, however, the results reported thus far may not be indicative of future trends.

Although Franken gained ground relative to Coleman, in actuality both candidates have fewer votes than they began the day with. This is because of the “challenge” process in which representatives of either candidate may challenge any ballot for any reason, which will subsequently be reviewed one at a time by Minnesota’s canvassing board in December. Challenges can occur to ballots that had previously been deemed to be legal, in which case those votes will be deducted from the opponent’s total. Coleman has thus far challenged 115 ballots and Franken 106. However, based on local reports, many or perhaps most of the challenges are frivolous, and are unlikely to be upheld upon review. Thus, the candidate who has challenged fewer ballots probably stands to gain ground once such challenges are adjudicated.

Of Franken’s net 43-vote gain, a net of 27 of those votes came from just two towns in Saint Louis County, Ely and Eveleth. These Northern villages, characteristically highly Democratic, use an older type of vote scanning technology called the Optech IIIP Eagle which is less reliable and requires use of an alternate ballot design. The Star Tribune reports, however, that about half the Saint Louis County precincts with the Eagle machines have already had their votes re-counted. Thus, it would be dangerous to extrapolate results from these precincts (and therefore to some extent Franken’s overall gain today) to the county or statewide levels.

On the other hand, the precincts that were re-counted today were slightly redder than average, having favored Coleman by an aggregate of 3.3 points during the initial count. No votes have yet been re-counted in Minneapolis (out of more than 200,000 cast), although about 43,000 have been recounted in St. Paul (out of around 140,000 cast on Election Day). Another city which has not yet reported any results is Duluth, traditionally a Democratic stronghold.

The Star Tribune reports slightly different results, with Franken having gained a net of 41 votes rather than 43, 18 percent of ballots re-counted rather than 15.5, and higher numbers of challenged ballots for both candidates.

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