If you haven't been paying attention to the Minnesota Senate race, it now looks very likely that Al Franken is going to win. News reports have indicated that Norm Coleman holds a lead of about 200 votes (192 is the most recent). But that number isn't very indicative of where things stand. As local canvassing boards have recounted their ballots, either campaign has been able to challenge any ballot they want, for any reason. And the official total does not include any challenged ballots. This rule gave both campaigns a strong incentive to challenge ballots: The more ballots you challenge (that show your opponent gaining a vote, obviously), the bigger your lead would seem to be.

The Franken campaign has been circulating its own number, which assumes that the initial judgment of the canvassing board is correct. According to this figure, Franken is leading Coleman by four votes. Press coverage has often failed to explain the methodology of Franken's number -- which, if accurately reported, would provide a much more clear window into the true state of the race. Of course, this assumed that Franken's campaign was reporting the number accurately. (The Coleman campaign disputed it, but suspiciously refused to provide its own number.) Now, finally, the Associated Press has examined the challenged ballots, and concluded:

The AP also found that of the 3,500 challenged ballots that easily could be assigned, Franken netted 200 more votes than Coleman.

In other words, the Franken number is basically dead on: start with Coleman ahead by 192 votes, net 200 for Franken, and you've got Franken with a small single-digit (!) lead.

Of course, that's pretty precarious. But the other wild card is absentee ballots, hundreds of which seem to have been erronesouly disqualified, and which seem to favor Franken. All in all, Franken seems like a pretty strong bet to win.

--Jonathan Chait