Minnesota Senate: Recount Preview

The Minnesota Senate recount hasn't started, but the already fierce campaign continues to escalate. No amount of complaining will win this election, but both sides seem content to try. Each campaign is spewing propaganda, but the vast majority of media coverage seems to involve Republican talking points, rather than facts. This is an obvious problem; as a result the actual information takes a backseat to spin and deception. Using the current results, as provided by the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office, the reasoning behind the right-wing's focus can be extracted:

Minnesota Election Results By County

There's a lot of information in the image above that may not be directly apparent; I will do my best to explain its meaning; if you don't care about the peculiarities of each maps' coloration, skip to the ellipses.

Franken vs Coleman (0%, 1, 3)

The upper left most map of Minnesota depicts the percent margin of victory in each county using the unofficial results of the Minnesota Senate election. All totals pertaining to unlisted candidates are included in our analysis. The color purple represents counties decided by less than 3% of the final margin, decrementing by 1 percent for each change in color. The darkest purple represents a voting margin of 1% or less, the middle purple between 1% and 2% and the lightest purple between 2-3%. The blue and red then represent counties that were decisively won by either Al Franken or Norm Coleman, respectively. The red and blue counties follow a 3% scale. The lightest blue (or red) represents a 3-6% margin, followed by 6-9% as the color grows darker, then finally a 9%+ margin of victory for the darkest blue (or red).

Obama vs McCain (0%, 1, 3)

Instead of depicting the unofficial Senate Results, the upper right most map shows the result of the Presidential Election between Barack Obama and John McCain; the color scales are identical to those used in the first Senate map.

Franken vs Obama (12%, .166, 1.5)

The lower left most map differs from the previous two, but conveys a combination of their data. Based on the current statewide result, Al Franken received 12.07903% less votes than Obama. For the proposes of this graph that number was rounded to 12% and used as a baseline. If Al Franken performed better than that 12% difference in a given county, the county is designated as blue; if Obama did better, the county was colored orange. The purple represents counties where the adjusted margin, after the 12% is applied, lies within .5%. The darkest purple shows counties decided by .166% or less, the middle purple .333% or less, and the lightest purple .5% or less. The blue and orange counties follow a 1.5% scale. The lightest blue (or orange) represents a 1.5-3% adjusted margin, then a 3-4.5% margin for the next darkest color. followed by the darkest blue (or orange) representing a 7%+ adjusted margin of victory for the associated candidate.

Residual Votes (0%, 200, 2000)

The final map, the lower rightmost, reveals the most interesting conclusion of the currently unofficial result. This map illustrates the difference between the number of total ballots cast and the number cast in the Senate Election; this difference is commonly referred to as the residual vote. The counties are colored with respect to the first map, but the degree of coloration corresponds to the number of residual votes in a given county. The lightest color depicts a county with fewer than 200 residual votes, followed by the middle color with 200-2,000 residual votes, and finally the darkest color representing a county with more than 2,000 residual votes.


The right-wing (LetFreedomRingBlog.com, Amanda Carpenter, HotAir.com, RedState.com) seems content to perpetuate misinformation of the residual vote variety. Contrary to their belief, the relationship between Franken's outcome and Obama's outcome has absolutely nothing to do with the current, and likely spread of residual votes. Are they simply refusing to accept the empirical facts or are they already starting to play the blame game?

The raw data, our results, depict a very plausible comeback by Al Franken during the recount. Drawing from our Residual Votes map, there were 34,703 votes cast on a presidential ballot that were not cast in the Senate race. Of those 34,703 residual votes, 17,839 (51.04%) of them occurred in counties that Franken won, a margin of 975. If just 21.13% of the statewide residual votes are classified as either undervotes or overvotes Al Franken should statistically pull ahead during the recount.

If you want a higher degree of residual vote accuracy, perhaps the county and precinct level results should be taken into consideration. Using county level data, Franken needs slightly less than 40% of the 34,703 previously identified residual votes and just 13.2% of that total using precinct data. All modes of interpretation clearly point to a likely surge by Franken during the recount process due to these residual votes; a fact the right seems content to ignore.

If you don't trust my analysis, perhaps you should argue with Dartmouth College or MIT instead.

Update: The obvious discrepancy in my initial result revolved around the exclusion of Presidential residual votes. The MN SOS website happens to provide a count for the total number of ballots cast in each county which allows us to find the number of Presidential residual votes through a simple subtraction. The Presidential residual vote was then added to the Senate residual vote to arrive at the total number of residual votes cast in the Minnesota election. I've updated the numbers within the the article to reflect this change. The inclusion of this new information increased the number of effective residual votes needed, for a Franken victory, by roughly 10%; definitely good news for Norm Coleman's reelection effort.

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