Coleman / Franken Recount Overview: Republicans Are Doing What Republicans Do

Story Number One: It’s an amazingly close election
The Franken-Coleman election is freakishly close. The first semi-official report showed a spread of 700 votes out of 2.9 million (less than three hundredths of a percent). One of my imaginary internet friends has calculated that flipping 2.9 million coins would come up with a heads-tails difference bigger than that 90% of the time. Un coup de des jamais n’abolira le hasard, they say, but apparently the disseminated intelligence of Minnesota has succeeded in defeating the law of averages.
And the gap has been narrowing. The first official report (before the recount) reduced the spread to a little over 200 votes, and the recount so far has reduced the spread still further. It’s quite possible that when the dust settles, the difference will be fewer than 100 votes one way or the other. (My imaginary friend hasn’t done the math on that one yet.)
Story Number Two: Everything’s going fine so far
Except for the closeness of the election, nothing unusual has happened yet. The corrections that were made in the first few days were in the normal range. The corrections that have been made in the first half of the recount have been in the normal range. Routine honest mistakes were routinely and honestly corrected. The Coleman and Franken campaigns have filed two quite ordinary lawsuits. The Secretary of State and the various election officials have all done their jobs in a correct, routine, businesslike way.
Minnesota’s election law regarding recounts is carefully written and unambiguous, Minnesota has a well-earned reputation for efficient, honest elections, and nothing has happened so far to damage that reputation.
Story Number Three: The Republicans are stinking up the place
Coleman still has to be the favorite, but the Republicans are doing whatever they can to cast a shadow in the process, so Coleman could end up representing a state whose reputation for honesty he’d just dragged through the mud. They just can’t help themselves. That’s the only way they work.
Not all of the Republicans are acting badly. Former U. S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger was originally slated to head the Coleman recount campaign, but he made some polite excuse and backed out. (You have to believe that he just didn’t want to be involved with the sleazy operation the Coleman team was planning.) And after a little slip on national TV (which he corrected the next week) Republican Governor Pawlenty has generally affirmed the integrity of his state’s recount process — though still he might relapse, and definitely needs watching.
But Coleman is a Rovian. Even though he hasn’t won yet, legally speaking, he’s already declared victory three times. He’s proposed that Franken waive the “unnecessary” recount. He’s blamed Franken for the cost of the recount required by law. He’s smeared Secretary of State Ritchie. He’s smeared several local election boards. He’s made a stink about the 32 votes (which were never lost and were never in the trunk of a car), and about the routine correction of a hundred-vote mistranscription, and about the next-morning report of one county’s votes, and so on ad nauseum. Whenever the count has turned against him, he has immediately, without checking, insinuated the possibility of fraud. (In this he has been joined by Minnesota’s labile, amnesiac Congresswoman Michele Bachmann . Michele may not bother to get her facts right, but “she knows her heart is right”).
The Coleman allegations have been refuted in Minnesota, but they’re still alive and well nationally. The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, MSNBC, and other outlets have succeeded in convincing millions of people that Franken is trying to steal the election. Even the New York Times has relayed erroneous Coleman charges. Some Republicans — and many media people — are even hinting that Minnesota is Florida all over again, with Secretary of State Ritchie as the Katherine Harris figure. (Are the Republicans really finally admitting that the 2000 election was stolen?)
It’s hard to be sure what the Republicans have been trying to accomplish. The voting is finished, so public opinion is pretty much irrelevant. The recount process is spelled out in detail and not really susceptible to public pressure, and neither is the legal process. The most it seems that they can accomplish by their methods is to inflame their demented base, discredit Franken a bit, and generally poison the atmosphere, but by doing that they risk ending up even more despised than they already are. My guess is that they’re acting like stinkers because that’s what Republicans do. They’ve been playing that game for so long that they don’t know how to do anything else.
(Link from Digby, who describes a stolen election in Alabama. It’s my hope and expectation that Minnesota will perform better than Alabama did.)

The Election Process:

The night of the election, preliminary unofficial results are reported. Usually these results are decisive, but not this time. An automatic spot check is then done to find gross errors. (None were found.) After a week or so of adjustments and corrections, mostly at the local level, the corrected preliminary results are certified. The recount then begins, if necessary. Every ballot is recounted by hand, ballots challenged by one side out the other are separated out, and the new counts are recorded. (As of Nov. 22 we’re in the middle of this part). The challenged ballots are then evaluated by the recount panel, and the final result is reported.

Legal challenges can follow, though Minnesota law makes them difficult. (That’s presumably why the Franken camp is already suing about the rejected absentee ballots.) And finally, the Senate decides. Maybe they should skip to this right now, because I really doubt that the earlier phases are going to be decisive.

Supporting links below:

Google news recount update
“Franken + steal + election” Google search
Scarborough plays the Florida card
Scarborough 2
Minnesota is the new Florida
Corrections so far are actually fewer than in other recent senatorial elections: pdf
Coleman’s latest angle (at the moment he’s distancing himself from everything his campaign has been doing)
Nov. 21 Huffington Post summary
Minnesota Post recount stories (excellent source)
Minnesota Independent recount stories
Talking Points Memo recount stories
Media Matters recount stories
“538” recount stories
Aggregated recount stories
Minneapolis Star-Tribune daily recount results