Days after it was reported that 133 ballots were missing in the Minneapolis portion of the Minnesota Senate recount, local officials in the city said they had discovered a misplaced stack of ballots. Democratic sources in the state, meanwhile, say that this group of votes were not counted on the day of the election, meaning they will have a larger effect on the outcome of the recount.
By mid-day Friday a spokesperson for the city, Matt Laible, said that the envelope contained about 10 absentee ballots -- a small number compared to the total number of votes casts in the state, but potentially very significant. An hour or so later, Marc Elias, Franken's lawyer, declared that with all precincts recounted the campaign's internal numbers had them ahead by a mere four votes.
"We are moving on to the next stage of the process," said Elias. "We are not declaring victory."
As such, the findings of the missing absentee ballots -- which Laible said would not be tallied immediately -- are being cheered by Al Franken's campaign not merely because they come from a deeply Democratic area of the city and promise to bolster the vote total of the Democratic challenger. But over the past few weeks, the Franken team has been arguing that the recount process must be more comprehensive and thorough. Indeed, on a conference call with reporters, Elias announced that the campaign was sending a letter to officials in the state's 87 counties, urging them to redouble their efforts to look into missing ballots, including improperly rejected absentee ballots.
Earlier in the week, election officials discovered more than 170 ballots in Ramsey County that, once counted, added 37 votes to Franken's total. The disappearance of 133 ballots from Minneapolis, however, has thrust both campaigns into full-on political hysteria. During a conference call on Thursday, aides to Franken argued that the disappearance of these votes would effectively throw the election to Sen. Norm Coleman.
The Coleman camp's response, meanwhile, was a bit more confused. The Senator's lawyer, Fritz Knaak, declared on Thursday that they did "not know that there are any ballots missing, and it is premature and simply irresponsible to suggest that they are."
At the same time, the local press was reporting that instead of accidentally counting 133 ballots twice on Election Day (the alternative explanation for why those votes had gone missing) local officials had determined a single envelope of ballots was in fact missing.
This was the second time Knaak had misstated a recount-related issue. Four days after the election, he declared that a Minneapolis elections director had ridden around the city with 32 ballots in her car -- raising questions of her integrity -- when she discovered them after the election. It turned out, however, that the ballots had been transported properly back to Minneapolis City Hall from a precinct, before briefly being misplaced.
UPDATE: Talking Points Memo quotes a local election official saying that, if the state can't find the 133 ballots that are missing in Minneapolis, they may simply include the Election Night total for the precinct in place of a recount total. This would be a big victory for Franken as well, as he would "avoid losing a net 46 votes if [the ballots] were disregarded."