The real action in the Minnesota recount will be the ballots challenged by the two campaigns on the grounds that the voter intent was not properly ascertained. These challenged ballots are emerging even when the county recounts show no discrepancy with the count of the ballots successfully scanned by the machines. As I suggested in an earlier posting, this is an illustration of why the post-election audit is not an especially good predictor of what will happen in the recount. The result will be determined by looking at the ballots that the machines fail to count if they are functioning properly. (Why some of these ballots weren’t kicked back to the voters because they were overvotes is another issue to be pondered.)
If the best hunting for new votes is among the “residual votes,” then it is natural to ask whether the different parts of the state seem to be setting aside the same proportion of ballots for further scrutiny. The answer here is “no.”
Statewide, about 5% of the residual vote has ended up as a challenged ballot. Two counties that have completed their recounts have seen challenges lodged against over 20% of their residual votes: Cook (25%) and Fillmore (25%). St. Louis (21%), and Wabasha (32%) counties are also over 20%, but the recounts aren’t complete. Five counties have seen precisely zero challenges: Clearwater, Lincoln, Norman, Red Lake, and Redwood. These are tiny counties, and so we might expect that the number of challenges would be low. Nonetheless, even if the fraction of ambiguous ballots is 1% of the residual votes, then the probability that the challenged ballots in these counties would be precisely zero is very small.
It is natural to assume that the rate of challenging will vary according to who is representing the campaigns in each county. The Minnesota recount process is very orderly, but the human element is undoubtedly present, too.