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More Minnesota Madness

A Minneapolis-based Daily Kos diarist named ‘bitwise’ has done some further sleuthing on the impending Minnesota senate recount, which we had discussed at length this morning. Here’s what he’s found:

The freshest data, pulled from the state website minutes ago, shows Franken down by 206 votes. The total presidential undervote is 10086. The total senate undervote is 34916. If the senate undervote is allocated to Coleman and Franken along their fraction of the Coleman+Franken vote in that precinct, Coleman would receive 16573 new votes, Franken 18342, for a Franken gain of +1769.

There are a couple of things to pick through here. Firstly, it appears that slightly more than 10,000 people undervoted the presidential race. Although there are undoubtedly cases in which the voter undervoted the presidency but not the senate race, it would appear that for the most part the presidential undervote is a subset of the senate undervote.

The research I’ve come across suggests that about two-thirds of presidential undervotes are unintentional. So let’s take two-thirds of that 10,086 vote total and assign them to the recount pile — that equals 6,724 votes.

There were also about 25,000 cases in which the voter voted for the presidency but undervoted the senate race (consistent with the AP’s reportined finding last week). Let’s assume that in most of these cases, the voter intentionally skipped the senate race, but that in one-third of cases he did not. This equals another 8,277 votes, or a total of 15,001 cases in which the voter intended to vote for the senate race, but his vote was not recorded.

In not all of these 15,001 cases, however, will the voter’s intention be clear. Let’s assume that one-quarter of these ballots will be unresolvable, even upon a hand recount. This means that 11,251 ballots will actually be reclassified during the recount, or about 0.4% of the total cast.

Bitwise notes, however, that Franken did in fact perform better — really, quite a bit better — in precincts with more undervotes. If undervotes follow the pattern of the recorded votes, then Franken would win 52.5% of recounted ballots (excluding any ballots cast for third parties). This is a significant finding, as these are the first numbers I have seen to break the undervote down to the precinct level.

Let’s approach this in a couple of different directions. Firstly, let’s assume that my estimate of 11,251 recounted ballots is correct and hold this number constant, but vary the share of such ballots that go to Franken. Here are his win percentages under various such scenarios:

11,251 recounted ballots (0.4% correctable error rate)
Recounted Ballots
Resolved for Franken Franken Win %
50.0% 1.85%
50.1% 2.93%
50.5% 13.39%
51.0% 44.82%
51.5% 80.18%
52.0% 96.61%
52.5% 99.75%
53.0% 99.99%

Alternatively, let’s assume that Bitwise’s estimate of 52.5% of recounted ballots being resolved for Franken is correct, but vary the number of qualified ballots:

Franken Wins 52.5% of Recounted Ballots
Number of Recounted Ballots Franken Win %
2,500 1.68%
5,000 54.60%
5,623 68.93%
7,500 92.49%
10,000 99.15%
11,251 99.75%
15,000 99.99%
20,000 100.00%

The long story short is as follows: if Al Franken in fact wins anywhere near 52.5% of the undercounted ballots, it is quite likely that he will prevail, even given what I would consider to be fairly pessimistic assumptions about the number of correctable errors. You could halve my estimate of the number of recounted ballots, for instance (to 5,623) and Franken still projects to prevail around 69% of the time. If, on the other hand, Franken only wins say 51% of the undercount, then the precise number of correctable errors is more important.

I hesitate to say this, but I think the evidence points on balance toward Franken being a slight favorite to win the recount.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.