After a new analysis using the current recount data and a sampling of actual challenged ballots displayed at the Minneapolis Star Tribune website , it appears Al Franken is still on track to potentially win the recount by about 27 votes. Interestingly this is the exact same number that statistician turned political pundit Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com came up with on November 23rd. Nate Silver used a much more sophisticated regression analysis of the recount data at that time.
It is interesting to also note that all while the recount has been going on there has been a fierce media and public relations battle going on. A convenient proxy for the Norm Coleman campaign has been the Minneapolis Star Tribune that has been estimating the running vote spread between Al Franken and Norm Coleman on a daily basis. To the causal viewer one would think Norm Coleman has started to pull away from Al Franken considering the Star Tribune website currently shows Norm Coleman up 340 votes. At the start of the recount Norm Coleman was up 215 votes on Al Franken.
What this doesn't take into account is that every vote that is challenged by one side is effectively a vote removed from the other side's total. Thus it was clear very early on that many challenges were frivolous and were being used purely as a PR strategy to make it appear one side or the other was winning the recount. The vast majority of the residents of Minnesota and sadly many journalists only appear to be following this very artificial number. Subsequently these ballot challenges have accelerated recently and Norm Coleman's campaign has currently challenged 191 more votes than Al Franken (Figure 1). It is clear to many that a significant number of these challenges have been frivolous and one could argue that with an equal number of challenges Norm Coleman's lead would be at best only 149 votes over Al Franken. Figure 2 shows this much more dramatically.
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An estimate of pure ballot pickups without the confounding issue of ballot challenges shows the following ballot gains for Al Franken or for Norm Coleman in the following counties. Some of these gains were extrapolated in counties where counting has not yet finished and the majority of the counties, where only a net gain of one or two votes for either candidate, are not shown.
Lac Qui Parie +5 Norm Coleman
Becker +22 Norm Coleman
Filmore +10 Al Franken
St. Louis +43 Al Franken
Ramsey +48 Al Franken
Anoka +5 Norm Coleman
Carlton +4 Al Franken
Pine +7 Al Franken
Stearns +4 Al Franken
Dakota +10 Norm Coleman
Washington +4 Norm Coleman
Hennepin +31 Al Franken
Blue Earth +2 Norm Coleman
Polk +5 Al Franken
Two counties that just counted were:
Dodge +1 Al Franken
Jackson +13 Norm Coleman
Because a number of challenged ballots have been supplied to the Star Tribune and are available on their website further analysis can be done to get some possible insight into the challenged ballots. After an analysis of 365 votes on the Star Tribune Ballot Challenge, Al Franken picked up 9 votes. Extrapolating this to the 5943 total challenged ballots, Al Franken could pickup another 146 votes in challenges. This would erase the estimated 119 vote lead that Norm Coleman could have after the recount is finished and would ultimately give Al Franken a very slight lead of 27 votes after all the challenged votes were reviewed by the State Canvassing board.
This would mean that the final outcome would most assuredly depend on what happens to the assessment of the rejected absentee ballots.
An interesting side note was that when reviewing the challenged ballots on the Star Tribune website there were 8 overvotes where voters marked clear votes for Franken and one of the more obsure third party candidates of either Libertarian Charles Aldrich or Constitution James Niemackl. This only occurred twice for Norm Coleman. This of course is a very small sample size (8 times out of 365 votes) but the difference was striking and it is not entirely clear what would have accounted for this. Ballots showing overvotes are rejected out-right and would most assuredly be rejected by the Canvassing board as well. Only about 0.79% of all the Senatorial votes in the state went to either James Niemackl or Charles Aldrich.
There also appears to be dozens of missing ballots across the state that the Franken campaign has been actively investigating and they are exploring their options for pursuing the review of thousands of rejected absentee ballots. Their case in having the rejected ballots reviewed to make sure they were rejected for valid reasons appears to be very strong and will most likely occur from a legal challenge after the recount is finished.
This race will ultimately be the closest Senatorial race in Minnesota history and may perhaps be the closest Senatorial race in U.S. history.
[UPDATE: TPM reported that earlier today an additional 171 votes were found uncounted in Ramsey county. Those votes have now been counted and Al Franken has picked up an additional 37 votes. Internal polling by the Franken campaign says that they are down only 13 votes with about 200,000 votes yet to be counted.]