Weather Forecast


Court hears absentee challenge

ST. PAUL -- Sen. Norm Coleman's campaign told the state Supreme Court this afternoon that disputed absentee ballots should not be counted in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race.

However, if the ballots are counted, Coleman's attorney said, more specific guidelines should be established so that every county counts them the same.

Justices did not say how soon they would make a decision, but it is expected within a day or two.

"The devil is in the details," Coleman attorney Roger Magnuson told five members of the high court, which was short two members who are sitting in the state Canvassing Board deciding how to count another stack of controversial Senate ballots.

Magnuson said a secretary of state's office document takes 15 to 20 pages to explain how legitimate ballots should be determined, proving that more specific rules are needed.

Republican Coleman took the issue to court after it became known that an estimated 1,500 absentee ballots may have been improperly rejected. Democratic challenger Al Franken, however, demands that all ballots be counted by the Canvassing Board before it certifies a winner.

Coleman leads Franken by about 200 votes after most of the 2.9 million ballots have been recounted, but there are enough disputed ballots to determine the election's outcome.

Some justices suggested that the Franken and Coleman campaigns get together and agree on what absentee ballots should be counted. However, Magnuson said the absentee ballot dispute should be handled in court.

Franken attorney Bill Pentelovitch told the court that many of the ballot mistakes can be dealt with by canvassing boards at the county and state levels.

"Every vote properly cast should be counted," he said.

As the Supreme Court heard arguments began, the state Canvassing Board took a break after plowing through a stack of ballots challenged by Democrat Al Franken during the statewide recount. It began again even before the hour-long high court hearing ended.

Working at a faster pace than when it started the process Tuesday, the board reviewed more than 180 ballots by midday. The process of eyeing each ballot to try to determine the voter's intent was helped by the Franken campaign's decision to withdraw nearly 60 ballot challenges as they were called for review.

The board ruled quickly on some ballots where voter intent was clear, but deliberated for several minutes over others. It debated how to handle ballots labeled for the primary election -- neither Franken nor Coleman won those votes.

Others surprised the five-member Canvassing Board. One ballot was marked for Coleman but had a sticker attached covering other candidates' names.

"Every ballot's different, isn't it?" Canvassing Board member and Ramsey County District Judge Edward Cleary asked at one point. "This one's odd."

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said he wants to complete the ballot-challenge review by Fri-day night. He and other Canvassing Board members urged the campaigns again this morning to pull back more of their challenges.