Secretary of State report shows Franken with 47-vote lead

Al Franken
Though the initial report shows DFL candidate Al Franken with a 48-vote lead over his Repulican opponent Norm Coleman, it does not mean he is the winner of the race. There are as many as 1,600 rejected absentee votes that still need to be awarded.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

Democrat Al Franken now has a 47-vote lead over Republican Norm Coleman in the recount in the U.S. Senate race.

The latest figure comes from a draft report of the ballot challenges put forward from the two campaigns.

The Secretary of State's office presented a preliminary report to the State Canvassing Board Tuesday.

The draft report from the Secretary of State's office assesses all of the challenges put forward by both campaigns. The canvassing board's allocation of votes, and the challenges withdrawn from both campaigns, initially gave Franken a 48-vote lead over Coleman. The board made one correction costing Franken a vote.

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But, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said that margin is far from certain.

"It is impossible to say one candidate is either ahead or behind until it's completely done," Ritchie said.

Ritchie said there are still outstanding issues. Among them is the sorting and counting of any wrongly-rejected absentee ballots and a court case regarding votes that may have been counted twice.

For their part, both campaigns are playing it cool about the latest results. Andy Barr, with Al Franken's campaign, said he couldn't comment on the latest numbers since the campaign has been crunching their own numbers that showed them leading by 35 to 50 votes.

"We're feeling very confident that Al Franken is going to be the next Senator from Minnesota," Barr said.

Barr said the campaign is still waiting to see how many wrongly-rejected absentee ballots are identified and counted. The Minnesota Supreme Court ordered the Secretary of State's office, the two campaigns and local elections officials to create a process to identify and count as many as 1,600 ballots.

The court set a deadline of Dec. 31 for local elections officials to submit any new vote totals to the state. Barr said the Franken campaign pushed to get those ballots counted and is confident they'll keep the lead after the process is done.

"Given how close the overall pool of ballots was, 42 percent to 42 percent, it strikes us as pretty unlikely that Senator Coleman would be able to make up a 50-vote lead over the court of a 1,000 or 1,500 absentee ballots," Barr said.

Coleman campaign manager Culleen Sheehan acknowledges Franken may have a lead at this phase of the recount process. But he argues that the recount is flawed.

"Their lead is an artificial lead midway through the certification process," Sheehan said.

Coleman's campaign is urging the Minnesota Supreme Court to stop the canvassing board from counting, what it says, are as many as 150 ballots that may have been double-counted during the recount. They also want the court to order local elections officials to check for any other double counted ballots

"I think there's clear evidence that this does exist, that's why we're going to the Supreme Court," Sheehan said. "It's voter disenfranchisement to count some ballots twice but not every ballot twice. It's one voter, one vote and we just want to ensure that that process is fair and upheld and that it's fair and legal."

Attorneys for Al Franken say there's no evidence of double counting and say Coleman's campaign is using the double counting argument to taint the process.

The court has scheduled oral arguments for Tuesday afternoon on the subject.

Meanwhile, Secretary Ritchie said the Supreme Court may also have to consider a plan to protect the privacy of voters who had their absentee ballots rejected. In some counties, Ritchie said there are only a few absentee ballots that may have been wrongly set aside. The list of those who had their ballots rejected has been made public.

"If the vote in a county changes and there's only one ballot that has been opened, then the identity of that person and the change in the vote can be easily put together," Ritchie said. "So therefore the privacy of that person's vote cannot be protected under that procedure. So we're going to suggest ways to make sure that the privacy of the votes is ensured while we complete this process."

Ritchie said Attorney General Lori Swanson's office would present the plan to the Supreme Court on Tuesday. He wouldn't release the details of the plan, and referred questions to Swanson. Officials from her office did not return calls for this report.