Democratic challenger Al Franken finds himself on the cusp of winning a seat in the United States Senate after Minnesota's canvassing board awarded him a host of challenged votes during deliberations on Thursday.
As of 8PM ET, the Minneapolis Star Tribune projected that Franken would finish the recount process with a lead of 89 votes, positioning him to become the 59th senator caucusing with Democrats in the upcoming Congress.
According to local paper tallies, Franken currently trails Sen. Norm Coleman by a mere five votes, down from the 358-vote margin that the Republican held just last night. The Associated Press has the count even closer, with Coleman ahead by two votes. An aide to Franken told the Huffington Post that, according to the campaign's internal count, Franken has already taken a small lead.
The gains came as the canvassing board sifted through hundreds of ballots that Coleman had contested during the recount process. On Friday, the canvassing board will consider another 400 or so Coleman challenges. If the pattern remains consistent, Franken should vault past his opponent to a projected lead of approximately 89 votes, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The process by which the Senate race has come to this stage is often confusing. Coleman held an approximately 200-vote lead after the state went through a hand recount of all ballots. However, there remained approximately 1,500 ballots that one or the other campaign contested (and temporarily removed from the overall vote tally). Coleman challenged about 1,000 of these, Franken the rest.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the canvassing board considered Franken's challenges, which gave a slight gain to Coleman's lead (Franken, after all, was challenging ballots that were, perhaps erroneously, awarded to Coleman during the recount). But the Franken campaign also gained some votes during the two days; the canvassing board awarded him dozens of ballots that had been wrongfully determined to be non-votes or under-votes.
By Thursday, the canvassing board had moved onto the pile of Coleman challenges, and with it, Coleman's lead quickly dissipated. It became clear early on that the Senator had challenged many ballots simply because they favored Franken and had a minor (non-disqualifying) clerical error. The board began plowing through the votes until, by late afternoon, Franken found himself down by only five.
As it stands now, it seems likely that Franken will end this process with a lead wider than even his campaign expected. Earlier projections, from the Associated Press, Star Tribune and Franken himself, suggested that Coleman would lose the race by roughly 20 votes or less. And this tally doesn't even take into consideration the legal and political battle being waged over wrongfully rejected absentee ballots, which the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled, on Thursday, should be counted.
That decision, another loss for the Coleman campaign, could mean even more votes flowing into Franken's tally, though the Court also stressed that the state and both campaigns come up with a uniform standard for identifying these absentee ballots before they are counted.