Number of Minn. Senate ballots that may count drops

Denise Reilly
Judge Denise Reilly listens to arguments during the Senate vote recount trial in St. Paul, Minn.
AP Photo/Jim Mone, pool

The pile of unopened absentee ballots that could be added to Minnesota Senate totals for Al Franken and Norm Coleman is now down to 387.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann said Monday that all cities and counties have complied with a special court's order to submit ballot envelopes and supporting materials for the previously rejected ballots. The court plans to open eligible ballots Tuesday.

Last week, the court identified 400 ballots for possible counting - far fewer than Coleman wanted to include in a race the Republican trails. Franken, a Democrat, leads by 225 votes.

Coleman and his lawyers wasted little time in announcing their intention to appeal the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court and possibly beyond. The jockeying over the election outcome has gone on for a full five months, leaving Minnesota with a single senator.

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Gelbmann said 13 of the ballots on the judges' list had already been counted - on Election Day or during a statewide recount.

Eight of the 13 ballots are from Minneapolis, two are from St. Louis County and there is one each from Dakota, Ramsey and Washington counties, Gelbmann said.

Meanwhile, the three judges hearing Coleman's lawsuit were meeting privately Monday to review materials from some of the ballots they ordered shipped to St. Paul for possible counting.

Throughout the seven-week election trial, the candidates' legal teams worked with photocopies of the outer ballot envelopes. That made it difficult for the judges to get a complete look at some ballots.

Minnesota saw a surge in absentee voting last fall, but some 12,000 ballots were turned away for one reason or another. To date, nearly 1,000 of those ballots were deemed mistakenly rejected by local officials and later counted.

Other rulings from the court are still pending.

Coleman asked the court to invalidate votes from a Minneapolis precinct where ballots were lost between Election Day and the recount. A state board previously decided to rely on the machine count for the precinct.

Coleman also claimed poll workers made mistakes when making duplicate copies of damaged ballots. The error could have put both versions in the recount.

Combined, the matters could mean a swing of 100 votes.

Both sides are keeping up the public relations battle in the meantime.

Franken's campaign distributed an e-mail update to supporters expressing confidence that Tuesday's counting won't shift the tide and that the outcome would withstand appeal.

"The ruling from the court shows that former Senator Coleman will have a hard time convincing anyone to overturn the results of this election," attorney Marc Elias wrote in the memo.

Appearing on MSNBC, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the race might be far from over. Pawlenty said it might take a few more months in the courts "to get a proper and just and accurate and legal result."

Pawlenty is more than a bystander in the process; his signature is required on an election certificate before either candidate can claim the vacant seat in Washington. Pawlenty said he has talked about the race with Coleman and it shouldn't be assumed an appeal is a certainty.

"Everybody can take those forks in the roads when we get to them and we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves, but it's important, it's very important that we have a result here that isn't some scam or isn't based on some improper result or incomplete result," Pawlenty said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)