Residual Votes in the 2008 Minnesota Senate Race

Working Paper No.: 
Date Published: 
Michael C. Herron
Dartmouth College
Jeffrey B. Lewis

The 2008 United States Senate race in Minnesota is one of the closest electoral
contests in recent history: as of this writing, out of over 2.9 million ballots cast only 206 votes separate incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman and his Democratic challenger, Al Franken. The Minnesota Senate race is slated to be recounted starting on November 19, 2008, and a key issue in the recount will be the approximately 34 thousand residual votes associated with it. A Senate residual vote is, roughly speaking, the product of a ballot that lacks a recorded Senate vote, and in the Minnesota Senate race there is no doubt that the number of residual votes dwarfs the margin that separates Coleman from Franken. We show using a combination of precinct voting returns from the 2006 and 2008 General Elections that patterns in Senate race residual votes are consistent with, one, the presence of a large number of Democratic-leaning voters, in particular African-American voters, who appear to have deliberately skipped voting in the Coleman-Franken Senate contest and, two, the presence of a smaller number of Democraticleaning voters who almost certainly intended to cast a vote in the Senate race but for some reason did not do so. Ultimately, the anticipated recount may clarify the relative proportions of intentional versus unintentional residual votes. At present, though, the data available suggest that the recount will uncover many of the former and that, of the latter, a majority will likely prove to be supportive of Franken.