Brad Haynes reports on Senate races.

If someone has filled in the bubble next to Al Franken’s name for U.S. Senator, can we be sure that the voter intended to vote for Franken? What if that voter has also supplied a name in the space provided for a write-in candidate? What if that name is “Lizard People”?

ballotThese are the tough questions confronting elections officials in Minnesota as they hunker down for a manual recount of the 2.9 million ballots cast in the Senate race. After one day of recounting, covering 18% of ballots cast, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman’s lead has shrunk from 215 votes to 174. The Franken campaign also won a key legal challenge, forcing counties to turn over the names of absentee voters whose ballots were rejected. That may open up many more ballots to dispute, as the campaigns can now identify and argue for the inclusion of ballots that were unlawfully rejected.

Meanwhile, thousands of volunteers and hundreds of lawyers are challenging official decisions, ballot by ballot, waging weighty interpretative battles over voters’ messy scribbles – a few of which you can find here.

If a voter fills in the bubble for Coleman and then writes “NO” in capital letters next his name, should we take that as an intended vote for Coleman? Does a smudged thumb print count as a distinguishing mark, like a signature or Social Security number, which should invalidate the ballot? And then there are those excruciating calls: “Even though the voter filled in the bubble next to [Dean] Barkley’s name, a Franken representative said what appear to be eraser marks over Franken’s bubble indicated the voter intended to vote for Franken.”