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Franken lead to 50

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro, Abby Livingston and Carrie Dann
In the Minnesota Senate recount, which has now gone on 17 days longer than the 2000 recount, Democrat Al Franken's unofficial lead has expanded over Republican incumbent Norm Coleman from 46 to 50 votes today "when the state Canvassing Board finished allocating thousands of ballots that had been held up due to candidate challenges," AP writes.
 
In a statement, Franken all but claimed victory: "Today, the state canvassing board completed an important step in this process. I'm glad to be ahead, and as it appears that we're on track to win, I want Minnesotans to know that I'm ready to get to work for them in Washington on Day One. We still need to ensure that Minnesotans whose absentee ballots were improperly rejected aren't disenfranchised, but we are close to the finish line. And we should all be proud of our state's electoral process, and grateful for the dedication of our public servants, from the state canvassing board down to elections officials at the local level."
 
Every ballot that was cast on Election Day has now been counted , but the number of "improperly" rejected absentee ballots remains under dispute. The state Supreme Court ruled that both campaigns and local official must agree on the number and must be in the Secretary of State's office by Friday, Jan. 2nd. They would then have to be counted by Sunday, Jan. 4th. The state canvassing board is reportedly holding out hope it can certify a winner by Tuesday, Jan. 6th.
 
The state Supreme Court ruled that both campaigns and local official must agree on the number and must be in the Secretary of State's office by Friday, Jan. 2nd. They would then have to be counted by Sunday, Jan. 4th. The state canvassing board is reportedly holding out hope it can certify a winner by Tuesday, Jan. 6th.
 
Both sides have been meeting to try and agree on how many rejected ballots to count, but the camps have been bickering so fiercely that they had to be urged to remain "civil" by Minnesota's deputy secretary of state, who "said a late proposal from Coleman -- to review 654 more votes atop the 1,346 absentee ballots that local officials had already agreed were mistakenly rejected -- threatened to derail the process," the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote.
 
The Coleman campaign wants about half of those 1,346 ballots counted, in addition to wanting to re-examine the 654 others, which the AP reported "skew heavily toward suburban and rural counties where [Coleman] did best in the election."
 
When First Read asked the Coleman campaign yesterday -- prior to the AP report -- if there was a common thread for the 650 additional ballots, like selecting absentee ballots from areas leaning toward Coleman, campaign spokesman Mark Drake said, "I would characterize them as ballots that may have been regarded as wrongly rejected in some counties but remain rejected in others. We are looking for uniformity across in the 87 counties."
 
The Coleman campaign released a memo today, accusing the Franken campaign of not being willing to work with them; accused the deputy secretary of state of inserting himself "in this process" and blocking their "campaign from sending our list to local election officials;" and defended its asking for more ballots to be included for review, in part, because of a lack of a "uniform standard in how they rejected absentee ballots."
 
Here's the full memo:
"Over the weekend Franken campaign 'let go of the rope' in working with us to reach an agreement on wrongly rejected absentee ballots. The Franken campaign's 'take it or leave it' approach left no room for negotiation. Their actions, which resulted in no credible proposal from their campaign, or even a list that could be sent to local election officials, has ensured that there is no agreement that governs which rejected absentee ballots should be reviewed for counting by the Canvassing Board.
 
"Meanwhile, the Deputy Secretary of State inserted himself in this process and blocked our campaign from sending our list to local election officials yesterday. He then claimed that the reason that counties had no list was because neither campaign had complied with a deadline for getting lists to those counties.
 
"Our campaign proposed a good faith agreement that would ensure that more than 1,400 rejected absentee ballots would be reviewed for counting by the Canvassing Board, but, as a result of the Franken campaign's refusal to put forward a specific proposal and a list -- and the Deputy Secretary of State's intervention in this process -- there is no agreement and until there is an agreement no sorting of rejected absentee ballots can take place.
 
"It's important to understand that the reason we wanted more ballots included, on average less than ten per county, is that some counties were not consistent in the application of rejected absentee ballots. Some counties continue to not operate on a uniform standard in how they rejected absentee ballots. This lack of uniformity compelled us to ensure that additional rejected wrongly rejected absentee ballots be included in review for possible counting by the canvassing board." 

*** UPDATE *** Franken's attorney, Marc Elias, said that the campaign is "obviously thrilled" with today's gain of four votes.  "We have taken this process one step at a time, and at each step we have gained votes," he reminded reporters on an afternoon conference call. 
 
But, asked if the apparent lead indicates that the U.S. Senate will or should seat Franken even as expected litigation over the recount continues into the New Year, Elias demurred. "We're not going to speculate down the road as to what the Senate may do or what the Senate won't do," he said.