Franken camp claims vote margin now at 50 as new ballots found

Minnesota Democrat Al Franken’s lead attorney told reporters on Tuesday that his count shows the satirist trailing Sen. Norm Coleman (R) by just 50 votes with more than 200,000 left to be counted.

Attorney Marc Elias spoke at a Washington press conference held hours after election officials found nearly 200 ballots that had not been counted on election night.

{mosads}So far, the Franken campaign claims to have picked up 165 votes in the hotly contested recount.

That number includes all ballots challenged by both campaigns, assuming any calls made by election judges on the scene are accurate, Elias said. Coleman’s campaign has challenged approximately 300 more ballots than has Franken’s, leaving those votes off the official tally posted on the Minnesota secretary of state’s website. That website shows Coleman leading by 340 votes.

The two campaigns have challenged a total of 5,952 ballots.

“I’m here to tell you that the vast majority of these challenges are going to be thrown out,” Elias said. “We’re confident that we’re going to gain votes when the challenges are resolved.”

Fritz Knaak, Coleman’s lead attorney, told reporters on Tuesday he had tried several times to meet with Elias about winnowing down the number of challenged ballots, but the two have not connected.

In any case, he said, few votes are actually changing during the recount. “Clearly, in our point of view, the math isn’t working for the Franken campaign,” he said.

Elias told reporters that more than 9,000 absentee ballots have been rejected, at least some of them improperly. The secretary of state’s office has ordered counties to report the number of ballots that have been rejected and their cause.

Minnesota law says absentee ballots can only be rejected based on name and address discrepancies, if the voter’s signature is not valid, if the voter is not registered to vote or if he or she has already cast a ballot, either in person or by absentee ballot.

Elias said the secretary of state’s office estimates at least 500 ballots were rejected without cause, though the Franken campaign thinks the number is closer to 1,000. Franken’s campaign intends to question the cause of those ballots’ rejection, citing some elections officials who have admitted the ballots were set aside mistakenly.

“There are many, many Minnesotans who cast lawful absentee ballots who, due to no fault of their own, had those ballots rejected,” Elias said.

The uncertainty of the recount was evident again Tuesday as Ramsey County election officials found an additional 171 ballots that hadn’t been counted on election night. A broken voting machine had been replaced, but those who used the first machine never had their ballots recounted. Elias said the missing ballots were an example of why the recount needed to continue, though he refused to comment further.

Knaak said the additional ballots would give the precinct better than 100 percent turnout, indicating some ballots were likely fed through the proper machine on Election Day. “Hiccups happen, but this is one where it looks to us like somewhere in the process they were counting duplicates,” Knaak told The Hill. “It’s one of those situations where everybody’s trying to figure out what to do about it.”

The new discoveries could shrink Coleman’s already tiny lead. The precinct in question, in suburban Maplewood, gave Franken a small, 45 percent-to-39 percent margin, with Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley taking 14 percent.

The recount will continue through the end of the week, to be followed by hearings during which the state Canvassing Board will review challenged ballots. Further steps, including getting the Senate as a whole involved, are possible, and Elias refused to rule any potential step out.

Republicans have voiced serious concern about handing the election to the Senate to be decided. Knaak, in his press conference on Tuesday, noted Elias was in Washington at Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee headquarters. “Today, Marc [Elias] is in D.C. at the DSCC, within whispering distance of the chair of the Senate Rules Committee, so you can obviously draw your own conclusions. We have.”

Elias denied he had spoken with anyone who would be involved in any potential Senate maneuvers and instead was in Washington to see his family.

Elias voiced optimism in Franken’s chances. “I have no doubt in my mind that Al Franken got more votes in this election than Norm Coleman,” he said. “I don’t know what the margin’s going to be. But the direction is all in one place, and we believe that’s going to continue.”

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