The Minnesota Recount is Over

As many of you have already heard, the recount process in Minnesota to determine the outcome of the Senatorial race is over, and Al Franken has been certified as winner.

There is now a review period of seven days during which any voter in the state of Minnesota. Including me, Al Franken, whomever, can sue for an Election Challenge. Although both Secretary of State Ritchie and I have expressed the opinion that Norm Coleman, who lost the race, is unlikely to issue such a challenge, the press and even Coleman's lawyers have suggested that a challenge will in fact be filed by three o'clock tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon.

However, you know the following is true: The best chance Coleman has to turn what he calls Franken's "Artificial Lead" around is from a set of 650 as yet uncounted rejected absentee ballots. There are two things working against Coleman in regards to these ballots. First, the process is over and they were not counted. Asking for them to be counted is not a matter of bringing in something new. They have already been not-counted by a process determined by the same court to which Coleman would issue the challenge, and some members of that court were also on the canvassing board that certified the election this afternoon. So the chances of a challenge being accepted by this court is easily estimated at zero point zero zero zero. Or less.

Second, in order for Al Franken's official 225 vote lead to be erased by counting these absentee ballots, there would have to be a very strong bias in these 650 ballots that Coleman wants counted. I calculate that there is about a two to three percent probability that counting these votes would change the outcome in Coleman's favor. That may seem like a lot, but the chances of having the votes being counted to begin with is about zero.

Coleman really has two choices: Proceed with the challenge and end his political career or don't proceed and have a chance of continuing in Minnesota politics.

Which, I would guess, would involve his run for governor in two years. As a democrat, of course.

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An attorney for the Coleman campaign said in a statement this afternoon that the campaign will file a lawsuit "within the next 24 hours" to contest the results announced by the state Canvassing Board today. Coleman has a seven-day window to file a lawsuit contesting the election before the election certificate is signed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

"The actions today by the Canvassing Board are but the first step in what, unfortunately, will now have to be a longer process. This process isn't at the end; it is now just at the beginning," attorney Tony Trimble said in a statement. "While we appreciate the effort of this board to do the work, the reality is that any certification of vote totals at this point is only preliminary." - from ABC News's website.

By Joe Shelby (not verified) on 05 Jan 2009 #permalink

Joe: I heard that too. I also heard that Coleman has not been directly in touch with his lawyers and that they are making assumptions.

"Second, in order for Al Franken's official 225 vote lead to be erased by counting these absentee ballots, there would have to be a very strong bias in these 650 ballots that Coleman wants counted. I calculate that there is about a two to three percent probability that counting these votes would change the outcome in Coleman's favor."

my statistics are rusty but assuming a 50-50 split like the rest of the votes the standard deviation is
sqrt(650 * 0.5 * (1 - 0.5)) = 12.7475488


Coleman win -> X >= 438
438-325 = 113/12.74 = 8.86

So 8.86 standard deviations, according to Chebyshev's inequality
1/k^2 = 1/8.86^2 = 0.0127 are > 8.86 standard deviations from the mean, divide by 2 since half went the other way and there would be a 0.64% chance of the result being overturned, hmm I actually thought the odds would be lower. Anyone less rusty want to check my math?

By Aaron Luchko (not verified) on 05 Jan 2009 #permalink

Your math is fine but your methodology sucks. Well, not really, it's pretty good. But I took the actual data by precinct and bootstrapped it.

Ok, I didn't know they were specific to a precinct so I just used the 50-50.

By Aaron Luchko (not verified) on 05 Jan 2009 #permalink

Congratulations to Mr. Franken.

As for Mr. Coleman, I have one question. Why do you hate democracy?

"... any voter in the state of Minnesota... can sue for an Election Challenge."

Meaning Coleman can drop discreetly out of the matter, while some deep-pocketed front for the right wing -- with a bland name like "Citizens for Minnesota" -- backs some other individual Republican to take up the fight.

The GOP knows how to leave no fingerprints. Remember the Swift Boaters, "totally unrelated" to W's re-election campaign?

Aaron: For the assumptions you used, your result is an upper bound. Chebyshev's inequality is a limit to how fat the tail can be. For most real distributions the tail will be thinner--much thinner, if you assume a normal Gaussian distribution.

But if the ballots in question are preferentially from precincts that favored Coleman to begin with (as Greg implies), the actual probability could be significantly higher, IF these ballots are counted.

Here is the problem for Coleman: From here on out he has to overcome a presumption that the election was correctly decided in Franken's favor. That presumption includes not counting the absentee ballots in question. Coleman would have the burden of proof to demonstrate that the ballots were improperly excluded.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 06 Jan 2009 #permalink

I am completely confident that Franken has won and will be seated. However, in response to the 0.000 chance, I have two questions:

1) Isn't he hinging his hopes on overturns in higher, possibly the US Supreme, courts?

2) Wouldn't he improve his political position by being seen fighting and possibly pulling the martyr act that he was screwed out of office in the courts rather than meekly giving up? I don't understand the assertion that he can run for office again if he concedes but is doomed for life if he fights. Anyone who would have voted for the dolt in the first place can only be encouraged by his willingness to fight. No? If it was Franken I would want him to keep trying, despite the odds.


On number 1, yes, he is going to have to go to the USSC because the Minnesota court is going to refuse his plea. However, the USSC is not going to seat the loser of the fair election. We hope.

As to your second point, yes, that could work in some contexts, but not in Minnesota. Failure to be gracious and back out at this point, now that the process is done, will end his career in this state.

Speaking of graciousness, thanks for all your work covering this process. I've been glued to this site for much better reporting on the status of the whole election process than I was able to find in the papers. I think there are a number of us who typically don't comment but appreciate it a lot.

Thanks. SO, you can go and vote for me as best science blog then! (Don't let me come in last!!!)

Coleman to speak at 3 CST (live feed at Will he concede and let the oh so important "healing process" begin?