The change in his rhetoric about the decision to count rejected ballots in the contentious recount between Franken and GOP incumbent Norm Coleman could have huge ramifications in the race.
“It’s not my job to second guess county election officials” Secretary Mark Ritche is quoted saying in the Grand Forks Herald. Ritchie says local election officials set the "gold standard" for elections in this press release from his office.
At the heart of the issue is a forthcoming decision by the canvassing board on whether or not to count incorrectly marked absentee ballots, most of which fall in Franken's favor. Some absentee ballots were marked odd things, like "lizard people" as a write-in and were tossed out on Election Day. Franken, who trails Coleman by a narrow margin, wants those ballots to be reviewed. The board is scheduled to hold a meeting tomorrow, although it is unknown what exactly they'll be discussing.
As the powerful Secretary of State any instruction from Ritchie could influence an independent decision by the canvassing board. It's very likely Ritchie is being pressured by Democratic operatives to do just this despite his previous statements. A Franken win would put the Democrats one seat closer to a 60-seat Senate majority that could be sealed with a loss of GOP incumbent Saxby Chambliss to Democrat Jim Martin in Georgia next week in a run-off election.
Franken operatives know making a case for the absentee ballots may be their last shot at wiining the Senate seat, short of pursuing a legal strategy after Coleman is named the winner. Also in Franken's favor is the fact that a Thanksgiving Day Eve announcement from the canvassing board would escape critical media attention through the holiday weekend.
For this reason, GOP-ers are keeping a close eye on Ritchie and the board today and tomorrow.