Inspecting Ballots One by One in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate Race

December 16, 2008 - 6:29 AM
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Minneapolis (AP) - With the winner of Minnesota's U.S. Senate race still a mystery, a five-member board now steps in to see if a winner can be decided between rivals Norm Coleman and Al Franken.
 
The state canvassing board -- made up of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, two state Supreme Court justices and two Ramsey County judges -- were to begin inspecting as many as 1,500 ballots one by one on Tuesday.
 
Coleman, the Republican incumbent, leads Democrat Franken by 188 votes from more than 2.9 million ballots cast on Nov. 4. A final winner is pending the canvassing board's decisions on the disputed ballots.
 
By Monday, both campaigns had pledged to abandon many of the challenges lodged during the recount. The Coleman campaign said it would keep less than 1,000 of its challenges, while the Franken campaign said it would retain less than 500 -- though in a legal brief, his lawyers asserted the right to restore another 339 "incident-based" challenges tied to disputes or errors that arose at specific recount sites.
 
Attorneys for both sides said they believed the canvass board would be able to plow through many of the remaining challenges with little objection from the campaigns.
 
"We'll have to wait and see if patterns develop in terms of their decisions on certain matters," said Fritz Knaak, Coleman's attorney. "I'm expecting if that is the case both campaigns will be ready and willing to shed additional ballot challenges."
 
Even if the board meets Ritchie's goal of finishing by Friday, it seems unlikely to amount to a final resolution.
 
A major issue of dispute is the handling of absentee ballots that were improperly rejected on Election Day, a number currently estimated at around 1,600. The canvassing board earlier told counties to sort and count such ballots, but the Coleman campaign on Monday asked the state Supreme Court to block that. The high court scheduled a hearing on the matter Wednesday.
 
"I won't ask them to sign something until I know we are as accurate as we can be," Ritchie said, speaking of his fellow Canvassing Board members. "We will know a tremendous amount by Friday night."
 
Ritchie hopes all the canvassing board decisions are unanimous -- but short of that, state law allows for decisions by majority vote, said Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann.