Skip to main content
ABC News
Absentee Ballots Unlikely to Save Coleman

UPDATE: The Court has also ruled, apparently, that the 4,800 absentee ballots Coleman wants to have counted will be held to a much higher burden of proof. Essentially, those ballots will be presumed to be guilty until proven innocent, and will have to be advocated for one at a time by the Coleman campaign, rather than being opened summarily and counted in bulk. This will make Coleman’s rate of success very, very, very low, as opposed to merely very, very low. As Talking Points Memo notes, however, this process could take a very long time to complete and could continue to the delay the seating of a Senator Franken — which may be Coleman’s principal objective in the first place.

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled today that the Coleman campaign may continue to present evidence on roughly 4,800 absentee ballots considered by the Coleman campaign to have been potentially wrongly rejected. The Franken campaign, meanwhile, has its own list of roughly 770 ballots that may have been wrongly rejected.

This ruling is a victory for Coleman: his goal at this stage, plan and simple, is to put time back on the clock by expanding the universe of ballots under consideration. Still, Coleman is unlikely to net enough votes from among the 4,800 ballots to pull him ahead of Franken.

Consider the absentee ballots flagged by Coleman for being “wrongly rejected” that were actually considered by the counties earlier this month. Of about 150 absentee ballots that, having already been rejected twice by the counties (once on Election Night and then again pursuant to a court order), were triple-checked by the counties for potentially being wrongly rejected, only 1 was determined by county officials to be a valid ballot. At that rate of success, Coleman’s 4,800 ballots would turn into a grand total of … 32 that are actually deemed to have been rejected improperly. And those ballots were reviewed at a stage when the Coleman campaign wanted only about 650 ballots to be considered. Their success rate, you would figure, will be even lower with a now much larger number of ballots under consideration.

Don’t be impressed, in other words, by the sheer number of ballots under review. If you ask a girl out, and she turns you down the first three times, you don’t really improve your odds of success by asking her out another 30 times. (You may, however, increase your odds of getting a slap in the face or a restraining order).

The Coleman campaign, from what best I can tell, appears to be asking for a review of essentially every absentee ballot that they believe is more likely to contain a Coleman vote than a Franken vote. But these ballots have already been evaluated once, twice, and in some cases three times, and at each stage they have been determined to have been rejected properly. As we learned during the recount phase of the process, when the Coleman campaign challenged more ballots than Franken but had fewer successful challenges, it’s not the denominator that counts but the numerator, and I would guess that Franken has about has many successes from his list of 770 as Coleman does from his 4,800.

(Note: Language clarified in original post).

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.