FRANKEN CATCHES A BREAK?…. You probably thought, as I did, that the recount in Minnesota’s Senate race couldn’t possibly take any more strange turns. Think again.

The final day of ballot recounting in Ramsey County in the U.S. Senate race kicked up controversy today when 171 uncounted ballots from Maplewood turned up.

The ballots apparently had been uncounted because of a ballot-counting machine malfunction on Election Day. Although the official numbers were still being tabulated, representatives from U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman’s campaign said challenger Al Franken appeared to pick up a net gain of 37 votes because of the situation.

They also said there were 31 more ballots than the number of voters who signed in at Maplewood’s Sixth Precinct at the Hazelwood Fire Station. “We’re looking into that right now because there should not be more ballots than voters,” said Joe Mansky, Ramsey County’s elections manager. He said the number of voters who were registered and signed in, plus the number of same-day registrants and absentee voters should equal the number of ballots, but the 31 extra ballots remain under investigation.

The ballot counter malfunctioned after 171 ballots had been feed into the machine, Mansky said. When the machinery was replaced, the ballots were in the ballot box but went uncounted until today’s recount.

Of course, it’s extremely unlikely that all 171 uncounted ballots will go to Franken; he may, however, be positioned to narrow the gap against Coleman a little more. If this precinct was similar to those around it, Franken would pick up a net gain for about 12 votes.

And what kind of gap would that leave? According to the Franken campaign, the Republican incumbent now leads by 50 votes — and that’s before these 171 uncounted ballots are factored into the mix.

About 7% of ballots have not yet been reviewed as part of the statewide recount, and the issue of rejected absentee ballots remains unresolved.

Stay tuned.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.