Entering the final stages of the Minnesota recount process, Sen. Norm Coleman has made some dramatic moves meant to improve his long-shot chances. In the process, the Republican Senator is threatening the conclusion of the election.
On Monday, the Minnesota Republican identified a scant 136 wrongfully rejected absentee ballots (out of 1,346) that he wanted to be counted in the final tally. In addition, Coleman proposed to add an 700 contested absentee ballots for review (Al Franken proposed adding 85), suggesting that he is more interested in reclaiming the lead rather than operating in good faith. Since resolution of the absentee ballot issue is dependent on both campaigns and local officials agreeing on which votes should be reconsidered, Coleman's actions threaten to derail the delicate path on which the recount process had set.
As the Associated Press reported on Monday, "Coleman's proposed additions skew heavily toward suburban and rural counties where he did best in the election."
And yet, as suspicious as the moves seem on the surface, local officials kept a calm veneer. Reached by phone, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie tried to assuage concerns that Coleman's actions would endanger any short-term consensus on a Senate winner. Stating, simply, that he expected both campaigns to be "amenable" during this stage of the recount, Ritchie described the Coleman campaign's move on Monday as just another step in a meticulous process of declaring a final vote official.
"The Coleman campaign has said in public that they expect these meetings to be amenable, we expect them to be amenable. We expect a portion of those ballots to end up in our office Friday," said Ritchie. "The [other] thing is that the State Supreme Court has said in very stern language that all parties will approach this in a very fair minded approach. So the Supreme Court can decide that ... if any of the parties are not approaching this in the right way, they can take action."
And what kind of action might the court take?
"That is for the Supreme Court to decide," said Ritchie.
The Secretary of State expects both campaigns to submit the list of absentee ballots they want reconsidered by Friday. That date, however, is not a hard deadline, and Ritchie's office -- absent a Supreme Court call to finish the process -- is willing to work past the end of the week.
If the two campaigns do come to an agreement, the important dates for determining an Senate election winner will be as follows:
Tuesday, the total vote tally, pre-absentees, will be finalized by canvassing board. Franken is expected to be ahead at the time by 47 votes, though Ritchie calls this number "complete fiction."
"We are not done," he said. "And the people who say it, are repeating a fiction."
Nevertheless, the number could be significant. Should Franken be ahead with the absentee ballot issue unsettled, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar proposes granting him the Senate seat on a temporary basis until all the legal and political wrangling is put to rest. It is a proposal, Senate Democrats seem to be considering.
The other major date is January 5th or 6th. That is the goal for Ritchie's office to finalize the recount process. A winner should technically be determined then, though legal challenges seem likely to come from both campaigns.
The legal threats and sniping over absentee ballots aside, Ritchie said he was happy with the current pace and outlook of the recount. Asked whether he was pleased with how both campaigns have handled the process, he replied: "Yeah... all things considered, yes."