The Franken campaign struck a tone of confidence on Tuesday, insisting that once the votes were counted the numbers will reveal that they had bested Norm Coleman in the Minnesota Senate race.
"I'm very confident that Franken is going to win," said the Democratic challenger's lawyer Marc Elias. "I think we are going to win this recount. I have no doubt in my mind that Al Franken got more votes in this election that Norm Coleman. The only question is, will Norm Coleman have lawyers continue this fight."
There was reason for the optimism. While a local newspaper has the margin by which Franken trails in the recount somewhere in the 300-vote range, the Franken campaign itself says internal figures show them to be within 50 votes.
Perhaps more importantly, on Tuesday the Secretary of State's office directed county auditors and election officials to review previously rejected absentee ballots to determine whether or not they should be counted. For weeks, the Franken camp has argued that while many of the absentee ballots had been rejected for legitimate reasons, a portion of them (ranging from 500 to 1,000) could be deemed legitimate votes.
"We are grateful that the Secretary of State and the canvassing board agree with our assertion that properly cast absentee ballots can't be discounted," said Elias. "We are more confident than ever that these legally cast ballots will, in fact, be counted."
With the recount margin measure, potentially, in the dozens, each and every single vote could very well determine the victor. And the Franken campaign left the door open for legal action should improperly rejected ballots not, in the end, be counted. As if on cue, during the press conference on Tuesday a story emerged from Ramsey County in Minnesota -- a relatively Democratic locale -- that some 200 ballots had not been counted due to an optical scanning error. (updated below: these ballot findings could reduce the margin to a mere 13 votes)
Here are the important dates going forward:
By December 5, the state has estimated that it will have completed its hand recount.
On December 8, the review of absentee votes will begin. The state will have to consider whether the votes were rejected for four specific reasons: if the voter's name and address on the return envelope was not the same as the information provided on the absentee ballot application, if the voter's signature on the return envelope was not the genuine signature of the individual, if the voter was not registered and eligible to vote in the precinct or has not included a properly completed voter registration application, or if the voter had already voted at the election. Every other ballot, according to Minnesota state law, cannot be legally rejected.
On December 16th, the canvassing board is set to consider ballots challenged by the two campaigns.
And on December 26 or before, there will be a meeting of the canvassing board to decide whether to count the absentee ballots that could have been improperly rejected.
UPDATE: The total number of ballots found missing is 171. And it is estimated that, once counted, this could give Franken a net gain of 12 votes. The Coleman campaign is contesting the story, saying that, if these 171 were actually counted it would mean that more votes were cast in the county that the actual number of people who signed in on Election Day. Looks like more legal drama to come in Minnesota.
LATE UPDATE: The Star Tribune reports that Franken actually picked up 37 votes from the discovered ballots, meaning that -- if the campaign's internal numbers are correct -- the margin separating him and Coleman is an estimated 13 votes.