Court tries to streamline election contest

Kendra Sue Olson, Carver County's lead elections official, is testifying Tuesday afternoon in Republican Norm Coleman's U.S. Senate recount trial.

The trial picked up speed in the morning, after the three-judge panel hearing the case limited the types of rejected absentee ballots that might be counted.

Lawyers for both Coleman and Democrat Al Franken took about one hour to finish their direct and cross examinations of a Wright County Elections Auditor Robert Hiivala.

That's after having taken days with other county elections officials in the tedious process of reviewing rejected absentee ballots individually. Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said instead of introducing ballots one at a time, they now plan to introduce ballots by groups.

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"I think it's great progress," Ginsberg said. "I think it'll speed up at least the courtroom portion of the case if all the signature mismatches are just moved through for a look by the court."

Coleman is trying to get more than 3,000 rejected ballots counted in an effort to overcome Franken's 225-vote lead. Franken, on the other hand, thinks the court should review between 700 and 1,000 ballots.

The trial is still expected to take weeks.

Franken attorney Marc Elias said that since the beginning, his camp has wanted to move the trial along as fast as possible.

"The fact is that the nation's business is being done in Washington D.C. and important legislation is being decided and Minnesota has only one senator," Elias said. "So we appreciate the court's words this morning and we appreciate, frankly that the morning seemed to move quicker."

On Monday, Coleman's attorneys asked the judges to reconsider a key ruling from Friday, which narrowed the ballot categories at issue. The panel ruled that 12 of 19 categories of absentee ballots that Coleman wanted to introduce did not comply with Minnesota law and would not be counted in the final tally.

The judges excluded categories such as ballots submitted by voters who weren't registered and ballots that arrived late from people who lived overseas.

Coleman's legal team is trying to show that election officials in different areas counted similar ballots differently and therefore more ballots should be counted.