The board tasked with determining the fate of as many at 1,500 ballots in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race is moving at a faster clip today.
After a slow start on Tuesday, Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman was 264 votes ahead of Democratic rival Al Franken. His lead increased to 330 votes by midday on Wednesday. That figure is likely to change; however, since the board is mostly reviewing challenges put forth by Franken's campaign.
There are several reasons the process is moving more quickly. The board is more comfortable with ruling on certain types of ballots; the campaigns are withdrawing more challenges, and officials with the Secretary of State's office have streamlined the process. In addition, as some of the challenges are presented, the campaigns are withdrawing them.
"We thank you for that withdrawal," Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said several times as he chaired the five member board.
Even though the board is working at a faster clip, some of the ballots are making it difficult. One ballot had a mark in between the bubbles for Norm Coleman and Dean Barkley. Others have a mark in a Coleman oval and a completely filled in oval for Franken.
"These are so subtle sometimes. We're trying to be consistent," Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson said. Magnuson and fellow Justice G. Barry Anderson sit on the canvassing board along with Secretary Ritchie and Ramsey County Judges Kathleen Gearin and Edward Cleary.
Magnuson and Anderson both recused themselves from a case involving the Senate race. The remaining members of the Minnesota Supreme Court heard a motion this afternoon from attorneys representing Coleman's campaign regarding the fate of wrongly rejected absentee votes.
Last week the canvassing board suggested that local elections officials sort and count absentee ballots that were wrongly discarded. Coleman's campaign doesn't want the ballots allowed into the recount, because they argue local elections officials are applying different standards when they reject the ballots.
Coleman lawyer Roger Magnuson said after the hearing that the court needs to set rules to keep the recount from spinning out of control.
"We're very hopeful that they'll come up with a solution that doesn't walk us into the slough of Florida and the thicket that raised both legal protection issues there and 41 litigation cases and a whole variety of other issues," said Magnuson.
Justice Paul Anderson rebuked Magnuson when he raised the Florida example before the court.
An attorney for Franken said Coleman wants to suppress legitimate votes. He said local elections officials have the authority to correct their mistakes and count the ballots.
No word on when the court will rule.