Both candidates lose votes as ballots are challenged

A challenged ballot in Anoka County
The Coleman campaign challenged this ballot in Anoka County, arguing the voter drew an arrow pointing at Coleman's name after filling in the bubble next to Franken's name.
MPR Photo/Curtis Gilbert

On the first day 15.5 percent of the ballots were recounted, all by hand.

In the process, Al Franken lost 27 votes and Norm Coleman lost 70 compared to the initial tally in the same precincts.

According to the Minnesota Secretary of State's first day numbers, the Franken and Coleman campaigns ended up challenging very similar numbers of ballots. The Franken side had concerns about 106 ballots, the Coleman campaign challenged 115. That amounts to one half of one percent of the number of ballots that have been recounted.

Those challenged ballots will be delivered to the State Canvassing board in St. Paul. The board is made up of four judges and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and it will decide what to do with the contested ballots.

Ritchie said he thought the recount got off to a smooth start. He called the number of challenged ballots, "small."

"Which means that our process generally is very effective," Ritchie said. "You know the process we can tell what the citizens intended with their vote or we can tell that the ballot does not give us a signal about the voter's intent."

Around the state, those charged with recounting the ballots worked as representatives of the Coleman and Franken campaigns looked over their shoulders, sometimes formally contesting their decisions.

The first challenge in Anoka County came from Coleman campaign volunteer Christina Schonning. She stopped a ballot from going into the Franken pile, because coming out of the filled-in bubble next to Franken's name was what looked like an arrow pointing at Coleman's bubble.

"I would call it 'not clear intent,' because there's an arrow going up, that's not just a stray mark," Schonning said.

In Stearns County, auditor Randy Schreifels said the first day of the recount was hardly relaxing.

"I think it's a little more intense than the other recounts I've done," Schreifels said. "We've done a number of recounts over the years, but they're watching us count the stacks of 25 and counting them as we're doing it. They're not touching the ballots, of course, but they're very much watching the ballots more and the counting more closely than other recounts I've been a part of."

The deadline for finishing the recount is two weeks from this Friday. Ritchie said judging from progress on the first day, he expects the counties will be able to meet the December 5 deadline. The Secretary of State's office is promising nightly updates of the latest recount numbers every day votes are counted.

Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier said the slow, day-by-day release of the tally will feel like the drip, drip of water torture. But Schier said state officials have little choice but to share the numbers as they receive them to keep the recount as transparent as possible.

Schier's advice to Minnesotans is to ignore the horse race.

"I'm not sure it's terribly helpful to have three weeks of drips and drabs of the latest recount numbers coming out because none of it's conclusive until all are counted," Schier said. "And it will be, I think, misleading to draw conclusions day after day about the course of the recount. So we'll be getting a lot of news but it won't necessarily be very helpful news for determining who's winning the Senate race."

Neither the Franken nor the Coleman campaign had anything to say about the Secretary of State's first day recount tally.

Earlier in the day, Franken's campaign released a statement saying it's clear that Coleman's strategy is to "undermine the process and disenfranchise just enough voters so that they can win."

The Franken campaign won a legal move to force counties to provide it with the names and addresses of people whose absentee ballots were rejected.

The Coleman campaign has been claiming Franken sought the information to "stuff the ballot box." The Coleman camp issued a statement urging the Franken campaign to "exercise restraint," in tracking down voters and cited last week's incident in which Franken's attorney told what turned out to be a false story about a absentee ballot not being counted.

Secretary of State Ritchie said he expects some counties will work into the weekend on their recounts in hopes of being done before next week's Thanksgiving holiday.

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