Al Franken has ended the unofficial Minnesota Senate election recount up 50 votes over Sen. Norm Coleman.
The margin is subject to change as the state and both campaigns considers what to do with roughly 1,350 wrongfully rejected absentee ballots. But the canvassing board's decision carries with it some political and symbolic importance.
The 50-vote margin represents the final voting total reached after the state recounted all 2.9 million ballots cast on Election Day and sifted through the approximately 1,500 ballots that were challenged during the recount process by both campaigns. Franken started the process down by roughly 215 votes, meaning that a shift of roughly 265 votes took place.
The next major step in the election process will come on January 5th or 6th, when both campaigns are expected to reintroduce a pool of absentee ballots that the State Supreme Court declared wrongfully rejected. Both campaigns must agree on which ballots to re-introduce, and Coleman threw a small wrench into the process by highlighting a scant 136 such ballots. The Franken campaign has held that all 1,346 ballots be resubmitted.
But Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, in a telephone conversation with the Huffington Post Monday evening, said he expected both candidates to come to an "amenable" agreement.
"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."
Should Franken emerge victorious after the issue of wrongfully rejected absentee ballots is solved, the Coleman campaign has suggested that they will legally appeal the result. That could drag on the process for weeks or months. And, as such, some Minnesota officials -- in particular Sen. Amy Klobuchar -- have suggested that the state seat the winner on a temporary basis until those lawsuits are settled.
UPDATE: The campaigns have, predictably, two very different responses to the canvass board ruling. Franken welcomed the news as evidence that he is "on track to win." Coleman, meanwhile, accused state officials of being in the bag for the Democratic candidate.
In a quickly convened press briefing following the board's decision, Coleman lawyer Tony Trimble singled out Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann's as being a biased force in the recount process.
"He's gone out and done their work," said Trimble. "He's gone out and advised county officials to simply count those [wrongfully rejected absentee ballots] the Franken campaign wants."
Meanwhile, in a statement issued in his own name, Franken writes:
"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."