- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

ST. PAUL, MINN. (AP) - A special court on Tuesday ordered further review of 400 absentee ballots in the Minnesota Senate race, dealing a crippling blow to Republican Norm Coleman’s legal challenge against Democrat Al Franken’s lead.

Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said the small amount of remaining ballots made it difficult for Coleman, who had asked to include 1,360 ballots, to erase Franken’s current 225-vote lead. Within two hours of the ruling, Ginsberg warned of an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, arguing that the panel’s ruling tolerated differing standards from county to county between the general election and the recount.

“You never give up hope but it becomes a much longer shot,” Ginsberg said. “It’s still a mathematical possibility, but it’s probably akin to you winning your NCAA bracket pool at this point.”

The breakdown of the unopened absentee ballots is unknown, but it appears to favor Franken. His team had submitted almost 150 ballots, while Coleman offered 125. Fifty other ballots were sought by both, and the rest didn’t appear on either candidate’s list.

A lawyer for Franken, the former “Saturday Night Live” comic, said he was not worried about others trying to stop Franken from being seated after appeals were exhausted.

“We’re going to take this one step at a time,” attorney Marc Elias said. “What matters is what happens in the court in Minnesota and then in the Senate itself.”

The judges’ ruling was closest to what Franken wanted. Coleman, in arguing for his ballot inclusions, had asked the court to presume voters did things right.

But the three-judge panel said it “carefully reviewed each absentee ballot on a ballot-by-ballot basis to determine whether sufficient individualized evidence had been presented” for a closer look. The judges also warned: “To be clear, not every absentee ballot identified in this order will ultimately be opened and counted.”

To review the validity of some ballots, the judges said they needed to see original materials _ rather than the photocopies used in court.

The ballots were ordered to be examined April 7.


Associated Press writers Martiga Lohn in St. Paul and Henry C. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report.

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