The intense scrutiny of "voter intent" resumed today by the five-member board charged with directing Minnesota's recount in the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democratic rival Al Franken, and the day's rulings turned the challenger's slight deficit into a triple-digit lead.
Also today, the State Canvassing Board sidestepped the Coleman team's proposal to prevent as many as 150 ballots from being counted twice. Talking about instances when a ballot couldn't be run through a voting machine, requiring a duplicate to be made, the Coleman camp said that such ballots should be counted only if an original could be matched with its copy.
However, board members ruled that the duplicates should not be addressed by the board but in "another forum," said Board Chairman Mark Ritchie. But it will consider the ballots if there are questions about the intent of the voters who cast them, the board said.
Soon after, Coleman officials requested that the state Supreme Court prevent the Canvassing Board from including these votes in its recount totals.
In response to the Coleman request, Franken spokesman Andy Barr said: "This is just the latest desperate act by a campaign panicked because it has suddenly realized that it is going to lose the election."
On Thursday, the board reviewed Coleman's challenges of hundreds of Election Day ballots, and the day's work saw the unofficial margin between the candidates dwindle to within a handful of votes.
Then, as the board took up and rejected more Coleman challenges today, Franken pulled ahead in the opening minutes and steadily built his advantage to about 250 before the panel recessed until Monday.
Moments after Franken took the lead, Coleman campaign spokesman Mark Drake said in a statement: "While varying headlines and a flurry of different numbers will continue, we encourage everyone to just hang on until the process is finished. When it is finished, Norm Coleman will still lead, and we believe, be re-elected to the United States Senate."
Franken's move to the lead was no real surprise, given that the vast majority of ballot challenges typically fail. On the previous two days, when the board examined challenges from Franken, most were rejected and Coleman gained.
In court Thursday, the state Supreme Court said that improperly rejected absentee ballots must be counted by the Canvassing Board, something Coleman tried to prevent. But they won't be counted immediately, and Coleman and Franken must agree on which ones are tallied.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482