Three counties, including two of Minnesota’s most populous counties, are refusing to go along with a request from Minnesota’s Secretary of State that could unearth an additional 500 to 1,000 uncounted ballots in Minnesota’s tight US Senate race. The race between Democrat Al Franken and Republican Senator Norm Coleman is the last Senate race in the country yet to have a declared winner.
Last week at the urging of the State Canvassing Board, which must certify the results of the elections, the Secretary of State’s office asked counties to sort through rejected absentee ballots. Minnesota law lists four reasons an absentee vote may be rejected. The Canvassing Board wants to know how many ballots that did not match any of those criteria were rejected. This is what is being called “the fifth pile”.
Based on the advice of their lawyers, Ramsey, Washington and Itasca counties are refusing to do the sorting. Ramsey and Washington counties are part of the metro area and accounted for about 14% of all of the votes in Minnesota. The Secretary of State estimates there may be from 500 to 1,000 improperly rejected absentee ballots.
Reacting to the refusal, Franken attorney Marc Elias said “I don’t know of any good reason why a county would refuse to sort ballots by rejection type.”
Elias says the Franken campaign’s internal count gives their candidate a 4-vote lead over Coleman. Elias criticized media such as the Star Tribune, which continue to report a 192-vote lead for Coleman. Elias said the media knows that number isn’t true because it assumes the more than 6,000 ballot challenges will be upheld when hundreds of those challenges have already been withdrawn. On Monday the Franken campaign announced it was withdrawing about 425 ballot challenges, bringing to about 1,000 challenges it has withdrawn. The Coleman campaign has withdrawn about 600 challenges.
The State Canvassing Board meets this Friday to consider what, if anything, to do about improperly rejected absentee ballots and then starts what could be the long process of looking at each of the challenged ballots on December 16th. Both campaigns have promised to reduce the number of challenged ballots between now and December 16th.
133 ballots that turned up missing from a Minneapolis precinct have not been found and the search for them has been halted. It will be up to the State Canvassing Board to decide if the original machine count on those ballots should be accepted as part of the totals. If they were, it would be to the benefit of Franken who had 46 more votes than Coleman in that precinct.
The fate of 12 ballots that were found while searching for those missing 133 has not been resolved. The City of Minneapolis has not opened or counted those ballots that were sent in from overseas. The Franken campaign contends there is “considerable precedent” for counting the ballot and has sent a letter to the City of Minneapolis urging it do so.