Democrats, GOP Continue to Differ on Minnesota Senate Recount

Posted December 2, 2008 at 3:27pm

The lead election attorney for comedian Al Franken’s Senate campaign said Tuesday that the Democrat trails Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) by only about 50 votes, according to the campaign’s internal recount tally — a number that Republicans say contradicts their internal count.

Four weeks after Election Day, Democratic attorney Marc Elias said he was confident that between the counted ballots that the two campaigns have challenged and the tens of thousands of votes left to be recounted, Franken will emerge victorious. Of the 5,934 ballots challenged as of Monday evening, Coleman’s campaign had challenged 191 more than Franken’s campaign, according to the Minnesota secretary of state.

“The reason why there is a gap of about 344 between what’s on the secretary of state’s Web site and what I gave you is that the Coleman campaign is simply driving down Franken’s numbers by simply issuing more challenges,” Elias said at a Washington, D.C., briefing for reporters.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has Coleman leading Franken by 340 votes in the hand recount that is scheduled to end on Friday. According to the secretary of state, about 91 percent of the ballots cast in the Senate election had been recounted as of 8 p.m. Monday.

Elias said he arrived at the 50-vote margin by counting the election judge’s call at the table on the challenged ballots before they were removed from the secretary of state’s recount tally.

“We are confident that we are going to gain votes when the challenges are resolved, because our analysis is that our challenges are of a higher quality,” Elias said, speaking at the headquarters of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak said in a conference call with Minnesota reporters on Tuesday that the Senator’s campaign is also reviewing every challenged ballot, according to a Republican transcript of the meeting.

“We have a couple of teams working on it. We’re trying to basically conservatively handicap all of the ballots that are coming in,” Knaak said. “As we complete this process we anticipate making a decision as to how we will proceed between now and the meeting of the canvassing board with any challenged ballots that we believe will ultimately be accepted.”

The Franken campaign is also pinning its hopes on the 9,200 to 12,000 rejected absentee ballots, which have yet to be recounted. The secretary of state estimated that at least 500 of those were rejected improperly, and Elias said the Franken campaign believes the actual number is at least double that.

The secretary of state directed county officials Tuesday to review all of the rejected absentee ballots and sort them into piles of legally rejected and improperly rejected ballots. A review of these ballots will begin on Monday, according to a release from Franken’s campaign. The Coleman campaign is cooperating with the process of counting improperly rejected absentee ballots.

The state Canvassing Board is scheduled to meet again on Dec. 16 to begin sorting the challenged ballots — a process that could take weeks.

In the meantime, Republicans charged Elias and Democrats with setting up camp in Washington with the intention of strategizing for a Senate intervention into the election.

“Finally, I understand that the Franken campaign has attempted to back off its position last week that they were preparing to bring this election all the way to the floor of the Senate if the recount does not turn out their way,” Knaak said. “Yet, today, Marc is in D.C. at the DSCC, within whispering distance of the chair of the Senate Rules Committee, so you can obviously draw your own conclusions. We have.”

Elias denied that accusation, saying he was back in the capital to see his family after spending Thanksgiving in Minnesota. He said he had not spoken to anyone in the Senate, including the Rules Committee, aside from providing daily updates to the DSCC.