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Coleman Not in Giving Mood on Absentees

UPDATE (8:45 PM): The Uptake (as usual) has better and more recent info than I do.

Coleman is requesting the following:

-778 absentee ballots OPENED on the basis of recommendations from local election officials.

-544 absentee ballots LOOKED at more closely before they are opened (or not)

-67 absentee ballots OPENED that are not currently on the list from local election officials

-587 absentee ballots LOOKED at more closely before they are opened (or not) that are not currently on the list from local election officials.

Note that 778 plus 544 does not equal the total of 1,346 absentee ballots released by local election officials. Tony Trimble, Coleman recount laywer, said today they have not rejected opening any absentee ballot yet so the discrepancy accounts for absentee ballots they have not yet reviewed.

So the Coleman campaign does not want to count about 550 ballots identified by the counties as potentially being rejected improperly, but they do want to count about 650 ballots that the counties didn’t flag. As the Star Tribune notes, however,

Coleman’s proposed additions skew heavily toward suburban and rural counties where he did best in the election.

The Coleman campaign has apparently not made any effort to explain what differentiates the absentees they do want counted from the ones they don’t.

Original post follows after the jump.

Stunningly, the Al Franken and Norm Coleman campaigns are having difficulty coming to a consensus on just which absentee ballots to count, in spite of having been ordered by the Minnesota Supreme Court to do so:

While the Franken campaign said Saturday it wanted to count all 1,346 absentee ballots that local officials have determined were improperly rejected, lawyers for Coleman said today they had agreed to 136 of the ballots but would release a list containing “lots, lots more” this afternoon.

We perhaps shouldn’t judge the Coleman campaign too harshly until we know precisely what “lots, lots more” means. But, the passage of the Christmas holiday wouldn’t seem to have softened them up any. What sort of an objective standard would result in a list (even a partial list) that contains just 136 out of 1,346 potentially wrongly rejected absentee ballots? Minnesota’s reasons for rejecting absentee ballots are actually quite clear. There are undoubtedly some borderline cases — but it’s doubtful that 90 percent of the cases are borderline.

More to the point, the Coleman campaign shouldn’t really be picking out individual ballots at all. Rather, they should be proposing some set of standards by which all ballots can be evaluated. They don’t seem to be making any effort to do that. Certainly, the Coleman campaign has the right to promote a set of standards that they believe is relatively more favorable to its cause. But that’s different than cherry-picking individual ballots — which, in all probability, the campaign has concluded are liable to be Coleman ones.

Peering a little deeper into the Star Tribune’s article, however, one understands why the Coleman campaign must be very worried about the absentees:

There were indications today that of the 1,346 absentee ballots agreed to by the Franken campaign as being improperly rejected, an estimated 60 percent were cast in Hennepin, St. Louis, Ramsey and Dakota counties. There are 329 such ballots in Hennepin County alone, and another 161 ballots in St. Louis County, according to an official close to the Senate recount.

Of the potentially wrongly rejected absentee ballots identified by county officials, 24.4 percent are in Hennepin County — meaning Minneapolis and its whereabouts, a highly favorable area for Franken. By comparison, however, 22.8 percent of the ballots cast on Election Day were in Hennepin County. The number of absentees in Hennepin, in other words, is about what you’d expect.

On the other hand, 12.0 percent of the absentees are in St. Louis County, another highly blue area that contains Minnesota’s third-largest city, Duluth. By comparison, just 4.1 percent of Election Day turnout was in St. Louis County. Why the discrepancy? Because officials in Duluth rejected 77 absentee ballots which didn’t contain a date next to the voter’s signature. The state does apparently instruct voters to date their signatures on the absentee ballot envelope — but there is no statutory requirement that they do so, and the vast majority of counties processed and counted such ballots.

On Election Day, Franken got 54 percent of the vote in Duluth, Coleman got 31 percent, and other candidates got 15 percent. Applying those percentages to the 77 dateless ballots would imply that Franken picks up 42 votes, Coleman 24, and “other” 11, meaning a net gain of 18 votes for Franken. Considering that Franken’s lead is unofficially listed at just 47 votes, adding another 15-20 ballots to that margin makes a fair amount of difference.

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