Judges order opening of 1,500 absentee ballot envelopes

The three-judge panel listens to the attorneys
Judges Elizabeth Hayden, center, and Kurt Marben, back left, listen as lawyers for Franken and Coleman approach the bench during the U.S. Senate recount trial at Minnesota Judicial Center in St. Paul, Minn.
AP Pool-Pioneer Press/Ben Garvin

Voters send in their absentee ballots in two envelopes -- an outside envelope for their registration cards, and separate secrecy envelopes that hold the ballots.

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The law requires election judges to reject ballots of unregistered voters. But during the trial, some officials said some absentee ballots may be valid because voters may have put their registration cards in the secrecy envelope, along with their ballots, rather than the outside envelope.

About two weeks ago, an Anoka County elections manager says her county found three ballots in the secrecy envelopes that she suspected were never counted.

The three-judge panel has ordered local election officials to open the secrecy envelopes and look for registration cards, doing their best not to look at the ballots themselves.

The court ordered them to segregate the ballots into three piles and forward those lists electronically to the deputy secretary of state by March 4.

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The piles are:

  1. Those with completed registration

  2. Those with incomplete registration

  3. Those lacking registration.

The panel ordered all the envelopes to be securely maintained in their piles, "to facilitate transportation to a central location for review, if the Court so orders."

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The panel also said that both campaigns have agreed that neither side will have a representative present at the counties during the process.

Meanwhile, a Minneapolis election judge resumes testifying Friday following a reversal by the three-judge panel.

Pamela Howell, a Republican election judge, is expected to testify further about Coleman's claims that some Minneapolis election officials double-counted ballots.

On Wednesday, the panel cut off her testimony after she revealed that she prepared documents for trial that she gave to Coleman's lawyers, but not Franken's.

On Wednesday, the panel struck her testimony from the record because of what it said were repeated failures by the Coleman lawyers to comply with information requests. But on Thursday, the panel reversed and said the Coleman lawyers' failure was inadvertent and not in bad faith.

Coleman's lawyers are expected to rest their case early next week, after more than five weeks of testimony.

Franken's attorneys then begin presenting their side of the case, which is expected to take a couple of weeks. Franken leads Coleman by 225 votes following the statewide recount.