From NBC's Carrie Dann, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
The holiday week may have visions of sugarplums filling many people's minds, but it's still rejected absentee votes and challenged ballot count spreadsheets dancing in the heads of Minnesota's politicos. Here's a quick briefing on where things stand in the recount that hits the seven-weeks-past-Election-Day mark tomorrow:
Q: Who is ahead?
A: As of Friday afternoon, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune count gives Franken a 251-vote advantage going into tomorrow's meeting of the state canvassing board to review challenged ballots withdrawn by both candidates during the recount. Franken's team predicts that, coming out of that meeting, they will still hold a lead of 35-50 votes. That number is based on their internal count of withdrawn challenges, which are in the process of being reallocated into the respective piles of the candidate for whom each ballot was originally cast. The Coleman team did not comment today on how they expect tomorrow's count to shake out, but they are reserving hope that two outstanding disputes -- over ballots that may have been counted twice and over mistakenly rejected absentee ballots -- will be resolved in their favor to give them the upper hand.
Q: How many ballots are left to count?
A: After tomorrow's meeting of the state canvassing board, assuming that no unplanned disputes arise over the spreadsheet of reallocated withdrawn challenged ballots, every ballot cast on election day will have been counted. But there are still an additional 1,600 mistakenly rejected absentee ballots that have not been included, and the Minnesota Supreme Court set December 31 as the deadline for all parties to jointly determine how to count these absentee ballots. (There is some doubt that the Coleman and Franken camps will be able to come together on this, although both sides have publicly pledged to honor the court's order that they act "in good faith" on the shared agreement; if they don't, they could be subject to sanctions, though it remains unclear exactly what those sanctions would be.)
Q: So what happens tomorrow?
A: Two things: One, the state canvassing board reviews a spreadsheet of reallocated withdrawn ballot challenges and -- hopefully -- releases a final tally of the counted votes. That's the number that the Franken campaign expects to see +35-50 votes in their favor. Also tomorrow, the state's Supreme Court meets to consider the issue of about 100 votes that the Coleman team believes were accidentally counted twice.
Q: When is the election certified? Who certifies?
A: We have an easy answer to the second question: The state canvassing board certifies. But we don't have an answer to the first of when the election is certified. "It's up in the air," the secretary of state's office tells NBC News. The earliest possible date? If there are no further lawsuits or disputes, the count could technically be final by December 31st, the deadline by which both campaigns must agree on how to handle the accidentally rejected absentee ballots.
Q: How likely is that?
A: Keep in mind that the back-and-forth in Minnesota has now gone on over a week longer than the Florida recount, which concluded on December 13, 2000.
Bottom line: don't nix your New Years' Eve party plans to watch the news, just yet.