Recount is a go, however, decision on ballots hits a roadblock

ST. PAUL -- Local election officials begin recounting ballots in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race today, even as the fate of hundreds of disputed ballots remains unresolved.

The process begins
Minnesota Chief Justice Eric Magnuson found a moment to smile Tuesday as the state Canvassing Board ordered a recount in the U.S. Senate race. Tribune photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Local election officials begin recounting ballots in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race today, even as the fate of hundreds of disputed ballots remains unresolved.

Campaign lawyers and observers will huddle near election officials across the state as they start the hand recount of 2.9 million ballots. The state Canvassing Board on Tuesday voted to begin the recount today.

County election results the board approved showed what was expected: Sen. Norm Coleman led Democrat Al Franken by such a slim margin -- 215 votes -- that state law mandated a recount.

The board, however, delayed a decision on whether hundreds of disputed ballots will be counted, a key controversy between the campaigns.

The board -- the secretary of state and four judges -- recessed for a few days so its members can consider a request by Franken's campaign to include absentee ballots that local officials had rejected. Franken's recount attorney David Lillehaug said the campaign found examples of voters who cast absentee ballots that were wrongly thrown out.


"Can't we all agree that they shouldn't have to start a lawsuit ... before their votes are counted?" Lillehaug asked.

Board members said they need to digest a flurry of late-arriving documents, including one they received minutes before their meeting Tuesday.

Ritchie said the Canvassing Board probably will meet again early next week to take up the issue. Election officials said the pending decision does not delay the recount process.

Some county officials expect to complete recounts in one day, so some should be finished today. Some counties may take a couple of weeks and other counties do not start the recount until Dec. 3.

The Coleman campaign insisted the Franken request was designed to stop the recount, which the Democrat's lawyers dispute. Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak said the campaign was pleased with the board's delay, but also said those ballots should not be included.

The campaigns disagreed over an attorney general opinion indicating the Canvassing Board cannot decide to allow the controversial absentee ballots to be counted. Coleman's camp used it in its argument; Franken lawyers disputed it.

Heading into the Canvassing Board's hour-long meeting, Coleman led Franken by 215 votes. But once the recount was ordered, the count was back to zero.

However, the Coleman campaign declared victory Tuesday, issuing a statement saying the state board's action "confirmed" the Republican senator's re-election.


That claim was dismissed by the state's top election official.

"We certified that on all but four races the winner is known," Ritchie said.

The Senate race is among the four without a certified winner pending the recount.

"That's not the way we see it at all and I don't think that's the way most people see it," Knaak responded, adding that the campaign expects the recount result to be similar to the advantage Coleman had before it started.

Franken spokesman Andy Barr called the Coleman victory claim a "phony talking point that will not die."

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