Thursday, December 04, 2008

In The Pit

Just in case you needed more proof that the best way to follow the Coleman-Franken recount is to not pay much attention to the day to day proceedings, consider the breathless headline from Tuesday's Star Tribune:

Senate recount: Pendulum swings to Franken

Wow, that's big news. Up until this point, Coleman has been ahead every step of the way. Something dramatic must have happened:

The U.S. Senate recount took two abrupt turns Tuesday, both boosting the prospects of DFLer Al Franken.

Franken unexpectedly picked up 37 votes due to a combined machine malfunction and human error on Election Day that left 171 Maplewood ballots safe, secure but uncounted until Tuesday's final day of recounting in Ramsey County.

Wow. An abrupt turn indeed. So where did that leave the margin at?

By the end of Tuesday, with 93 percent of the total vote recounted, the Republican's lead stood at 303 votes with the state Canvassing Board set to finalize results Dec. 16.

Which isn't much different than the lead that Coleman has enjoyed for at least the last week. And as of today, the margin is back to 316. I must have missed the Strib headline announcing "Pendulum swings back to Coleman."

Following up on Saint Paul's post yesterday, sometimes it's hard to tell if the Strib reporters are actually writing these stories themselves or just regurgitating what they're being told by officials and campaigns. Consider the matter of the second "abrupt turn" in the in the story headlined "Pendulum swings to Franken":

The day's other news -- which Franken's campaign quickly described as a "breakthrough" -- came when Ritchie's office asked local election officials to examine an estimated 12,000 rejected absentee ballots and determine whether their rejection fell under one of four reasons for rejection defined in state law. The Secretary of State's office asked that ballots that were rejected for something other than the four legal reasons be placed into a so-called "fifth category."

Later in the piece, we learned that the significance of this new development was up for debate:

The letter to local election officials comes as the Canvassing Board awaits a state attorney general's opinion on whether the board has the authority to count the ballots in the fifth pile, or if that is something that only can be ordered by a court.

Fritz Knaak, Coleman's lead recount attorney, minimized the impact of the move and said Ritchie's office was not asking local election officials to count any of the five categories of rejected absentee ballots, and had written those instructions in bold type in its letter. "They were not directing that those be counted, but they are being set aside. And, of course, we're not surprised, and that's fine," he said.

Franken's campaign heralded the news as a significant development, and said it came on a day when the campaign's own internal recount showed that Coleman's lead had dwindled to 50 votes. "[This] process is not complete until every vote is counted. And today's directive is an important step," said Andy Barr, Franken's communications director.

So let's recap. The Coleman campaign minimizes the impact of the move, while the Franken campaign "heralded" it as a "significant development" and a "breakthrough." Guess which way the Strib chose to characterize it? Hint: the headline for the story was "Pendulum swings to Franken." Our local objective, unbiased news source at its finest.


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