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Minnesota Supreme Court seeks ballot information before ruling on absentee ballot issue

ST. PAUL - The Minnesota Supreme Court said today it wants additional information before deciding whether more absentee ballots should be part of the U.S. Senate recount.

The court asked for documents, including from St. Louis County and six other counties, explaining how an earlier court order setting guidelines for considering absentee ballots was interpreted.

Sen. Norm Coleman asked the court Wednesday to interrupt the review of absentee ballots because counties were not applying the same standards in determining which ballots should be counted.

Coleman recount attorney Fritz Knaak said Wednesday that emergency Supreme Court action was necessary to avoid "further disenfranchisement of Minnesota voters."

Coleman's campaign wants another 654 absentee ballots considered on top of the nearly 1,350 that local election officials identified as having been improperly rejected on or before Election Day.

The campaigns of Coleman and Democrat Al Franken reviewed those roughly 1,350 ballots with election officials this week, deciding which they agreed should be counted. An earlier Supreme Court order allowed either campaign to veto ballots.

The court wants the new information by 9 a.m. Saturday and said oral arguments may be scheduled.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said his office will go forward with its plan to open and count improperly rejected absentee ballots beginning Saturday morning.

"It changes nothing," Ritchie said of the court's latest request. He said his office is complying with the court's previous order to count all improperly rejected absentee ballots by the end of the weekend.

Ritchie estimated that 900 ballots will be part of that count.

Improperly rejected absentee ballots are important in the Senate recount because Franken leads Coleman by just 49 votes out of more than 3 million cast.

Also today, Gov. Tim Pawlenty questioned the Supreme Court order last month establishing the absentee ballot review. The Republican governor called it "somewhat concerning" that the court gave the campaigns authority to disqualify some votes.

"It seems odd that you would turn over somebody's legal right to vote to the campaigns," Pawlenty said on his weekly radio show.