Is the Coleman campaign challenging ballots because they're questionable, or simply to manipulate the official recount tallies?
As shown by Nate at FiveThirtyEight.com, Norm Coleman's campaign opened up a gap yesterday in the number of ballots challenged in the statewide recount. While Coleman's lawyers certainly have the right and responsibility to put a good public face on it, the numbers don't lie: if Coleman challenges as many or more ballots than Democratic opponent Al Franken does, regardless of the merits of those challenges, he can make a case in the media that the recount worked, Coleman won, and should be re-seated in the Senate come January. Such a press conference would no doubt be accompanied by a fourth declaration of victory before the results are actually known.
But a view from inside the recount operation shows just how the Coleman operation is working: not just challenging questionable ballots, but challenging ballots that are clearly Franken votes for the sake of challenging Franken votes, tamping down any possible gains Franken might make in the official tally.
Emerging accounts indicate that ballots with clear intent -- an X instead of a filled-in circle, with no other confusing marks, for example -- are being challenged by Coleman-affiliated observers. One account indicated that a Coleman observer challenged a clear Franken vote because apparently, "the dots were too big." In another case, a Coleman volunteer challenged a ballot and was told by the attorney on hand that it was a clear Franken vote, but if they wanted to challenge it "tit-for-tat", to go ahead.
Do these accounts amount to a Franken advantage despite the official margin remaining right around where it was before the recount? Possibly. Some of Franken's challenges have no doubt been frivolous as well. How many is the question. With thousands of ballots now being challenged, are Franken's challenges, say, worth 500 votes more than the run-up-the-numbers challenge system apparently in use by Team Coleman once the state canvassing board reviews them? 400 votes? 300? The accounts relayed by sources close to the recount process indicates that Franken's operation may be making more valid challenges, but in a race this tight, exactly how many more is the million-dollar question.
And for those who thought this campaign season would be over on November 5th, think again.