Minnesota took until 5 PM today to begin actually counting rejected absentee ballots, as the Canvassing Board sorted through various legal objections, underwent the arduous task of physically opening more than 900 ballots, and then gave the campaigns a chance to review the back of the ballots for identifying marks. Once they finally got underway, however, with election officials calling out the names of the candidates one ballot at a time, Franken went on a long winning streak and essentially never looked back.
All told, Franken gained a net of 176 ballots from the 952 under review according to The Uptake's unofficial count, putting him 225 votes ahead in the recount overall. Excluding disqualified ballots, Franken won 53.7 percent of the votes counted today, Coleman 34.1 percent, and other candidates 12.4 percent. Franken's 225-vote advantage is now slightly larger than the one Norm Coleman held before the recount began, when he led by 215 votes based on the certified Election Night tally.
Although the absentee ballots were expected by all observers to help Franken's prospects, the nearly 20-point margin that he ran up on Coleman today was surprisingly large; two pre-election polls that surveyed absentee voters had Franken winning that group by 8 points and 12 points, respectively. (n.b. Originally missed the Research 2000 poll on this -- nrs). It should also be remembered, however, that the Democrats made a large nationwide push for early and absentee voters this year, with Barack Obama overperforming by as many as 20-30 points among those voters in certain states.
The other possibility, of course, is that the Franken campaign did a more effective job of using its veto power on absentee ballots, perhaps by taking better advantage of voter lists.
Either way, a number of legal stratagems that might have seemed appealing to the Coleman campaign might now be somewhat mooted. For instance, even if all 130 ballots that the Coleman campaign claimed were double-counted for Franken were removed from his tally (but no ballots at all had been double-counted for Coleman), Franken would maintain a significant advantage. With Franken doing so well among the absentee ballots that were counted today, moreover, any Coleman attempts to get more absentee ballots counted would seem to have a high risk of backfiring.
EDIT: It appears that Franken's lead is now 225 votes, not 223 as previously reported, based on an a count provided orally by state officials in St. Paul today.