Meetings planned statewide to decide fate of rejected ballotsby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
One week from Tuesday, in the nation's Capitol, the new class of Senators will be sworn into office. On that same day the Minnesota State Canvassing Board is hoping to wrap up the Minnesota Senate recount.
That means it is unlikely their either Republican Senator Norm Coleman or Democrat challenger Al Franken will be taking the oath of office along with the other newly elected and re-elected Senators.
St. Paul, Minn. — As the Senate recount continues, several meetings get underway around the state Tuesday morning to determine which absentee ballots belong in the recount. The Franken and Coleman camps have sharply different ideas about just what should be considered.
Local elections officials have come up with roughly 1,350 absentee ballots the were mistakenly not included in the November election. Under a Minnesota Supreme Court order, only ballots both campaigns agree were wrongly rejected can be opened and tallied as part of the recount.
Late Monday, attorneys for Republican Senator Norm Coleman told Minnesota Secretary of State's office staffers and representatives of Democrat Al Franken's campaign that they want hundreds more rejected absentees, in addition to those local officials have identified, to be counted.
Coleman attorney Tony Trimble said Coleman wants to make sure that every single wrongly rejected absentee ballot ends up in the tally.
"Statewide, there's another 654 that we feel bear further review to make sure that the ballot treatment has been consistent in each county," Trimble said. "And we have some reason to believe that some counties might have rejected certain ballots differently than others."
Franken attorney David Lillehaug balked at the Coleman side's plan to add hundreds more rejected absentee ballots to the count. Lillehaug noted that it was the Coleman campaign that asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to block the counting of any wrongly-rejected absentee ballots.
The Franken campaign has been proposing that both campaigns agree to limit the pool of rejected absentee ballots to the roughly 1,350 identified by local elections officials.
"You heard us say we would agree to have all 1,350 opened and counted, no more additions, no more objections, let's get it done," Lillehaug said. "I think people are probably ready to have this recount over. They're ready to have absentee ballots opened up and counted. Now is the time to do that."
For its part, the Franken campaign identified 85 additional rejected absentee ballots it wanted added.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said, under the procedure agreed to by both campaigns and approved by the Minnesota Supreme Court, any ballots beyond those identified by local officials could be considered only if both campaigns agreed to include them by yesterday afternoon.
Ritchie said because that didn't happen, only those roughly 1,350 rejected absentees currently on the table can be the subject of discussion as to whether they should be sent to his office, opened and added to the recount tally. Richie said there are 12 meetings scheduled around the state on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.
"At those meetings the representatives of both campaigns and the local election officials will be finalizing the list of the wrongly-rejected absentee ballots that will be forwarded to our office here in St. Paul by Friday," Richie said.
Under the process, Ritchie's office must count the wrongly-rejected absentees by Sunday. He said both campaigns will then have a chance early next week to challenge any ballot decisions his office makes before the State Canvassing Board.
"I'm guessing it will take both Monday and Tuesday to get through all of the challenges and all of the little details that still remain," Richie said. "But if we have to go past January sixth we're prepared to do that but I also believe we are near the end of this phase of the process."
The end of the process would be the State Canvassing Board's certification of the recount. But that does not mean the battle between the Coleman and Franken campaigns will be over. It's expected that the loser will contest the election in court.