According to the MN Star-Tribune, Norm Coleman presently leads by 147 votes, which represents a gain of 68 votes for Al Franken, with 50% of the vote having been counted. The Secretary of State's official total had Franken having gained 86 votes on Coleman through the end of yesterday.
The votes recounted in the first two days have had a slight Republican lean (the 43+% of the vote counted through the end of yesterday had Coleman up by 39,000+ votes, meaning that Franken will win the remaining votes to be counted by a similar amount), so I am optimistic that there may be more votes to be gained in the precincts remaining to be counted in that the sample is going to be more DFL/Democratic.
All that being said, I have some reasons why I think Al Franken is likely to come up short. It might be 50 votes or less in the end, but, if I had to put odds on it right now, I would regard Coleman as the heavy favorite to ultimately be declared the winner. I'm not saying Franken can't win; he might. I will have the Fox Mulder I WANT TO BELIEVE poster on my wall until the last votes are counted by the Canvassing Board, but I am just trying to be realistic about Al Franken's chances. Here are my reasons:
Overall Pattern of Challenges
For starters, the Franken team has stated publicly that they believe many of the Coleman challenges are frivolous and will not be sustained by the Canvassing Board. If that is true, it seems to me that you would expect that the number of Coleman challenges to exceed the number of Franken challenges in the aggregate because of all those frivolous challenges. The MN Star-Tribune, however, is saying in its running totals that Franken has challenged more votes thus far (Franken has 480 challenges to Coleman's 467). Given that the votes counted thus far have a slight Republican lean, you would expect that Franken might be challenging more votes. If Franken's team were being more conservative in choosing which votes to challenge (and Coleman being challenge happy), it seems to me you would expect Coleman's total number of challenges to substantially exceed Franken's. It doesn't.
In populous Hennepin County, where Minneapolis is located, Franken has challenged 163 votes to Coleman's 139 thus far. This opposite-of-what-might-be-expected outcome can be accounted for to some degree, because it appears that the votes recounted and reported have been from the more Republican parts of the county. I am basing this again on the MN Star-Tribune's report, which shows that 49% of the county has been recounted thus far. If you look at the MN Star-Tribune's map of the recount by-city in the Twin Cities metro area, you see that only 16% of the Minneapolis precincts are being reported as having been recounted. Still, if Coleman's challenges are frequently frivolous, I would have expected a higher challenge total for Coleman from this county thus far.
Composition of the Canvassing Board
The DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie appointed two Republican State Supreme Court Justices to the five-member canvassing board, along with two judges from Ramsey County, one of whom was appointed by Governor Jesse Ventura. As this article details, Eric Magnuson, one of the Republican Supreme Court Justices appointed to the Canvassing Board, used to practice law with Governor Pawlenty. The other, G. Barry Anderson, served as an attorney to the Minnesota Republican Party before going on the bench. In public statements following the appointments to the Canvassing Board, Norm Coleman's team declared that they were pleased with the composition of the Board, while Al Franken expressed displeasure over it. I think the composition of the Canvassing Board may be in part the product of a successful mau-mauing of Mark Ritchie by Coleman's supporters, who branded Ritchie a commie, among other things, in the first few days after the election. I don't know enough about Magnuson and Anderson to know for certain how they might be expected to comport themselves as members of the Canvassing Board, but they appear to have been active partisans prior to coming to the bench, as opposed to the brilliant apolitical law professor type who everyone agrees belongs on a court somewhere. For these reasons, I don't know that anyone should be expecting that the resolution of the challenges before the Canvassing Board will tilt dramatically in Franken's favor, and, in fact, we may need to be prepared for the opposite.
The Rejected Absentee Ballot Issue
Al Franken was successful in his lawsuit in Ramsey County in which he sought to obtain name and address information for voters who had their absentee ballots rejected. While I have seen a lot of people excited by this news, I need someone to explain to me why we should be excited. If ultimately both campaigns are allowed to go through the list of voters who had their absentee ballots rejected in each of the 87 counties, is there any reason to believe that (1) any significant number of ballots would be found to have been improperly rejected by a particular county, and (2) such ballots would ultimately favor Al Franken? For example, is there evidence suggesting that absentee ballots went for Franken 60-40 (as between Franken and Coleman) because the DFL Party in MN has a strong program for getting its voters to vote by absentee ballot? I believe everyone who cast a valid vote deserves to have that vote counted, but I am wondering why the successful lawsuit by Franken should be regarded as a positive development, other than the fact that there are potentially still more votes out there and, consequently, the existence of more votes means things could still change when things are this close.
I want to be convinced I am wrong, so, by all means, please try to convince me I should have more hope at this point.