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Minnesota Recount to End Friday, but Race Still in Doubt

MINNEAPOLIS — Two weeks after it started, the recount in the Minnesota Senate race between Sen. Norm Coleman (R) and comedian Al Franken (D) is scheduled to be completed by the end of the day on Friday — but the race is far from resolved. Based on thousands of challenged ballots, it appears likely that the State Canvassing Board will have to determine the outcome of the contested election.

With more than 97 percent of vote recounted, Franken leads Coleman by more than 11,000 votes, according to the secretary of state’s office. However, the campaigns have collectively challenged 6,326 ballots — and many of those challenges are considered frivolous.

Several heavily Republican counties only recently began their recounts, meaning that Franken’s lead should drop. While the official recount shows Franken far ahead of Coleman, several news organizations show Coleman with a 316-vote lead, which many experts consider a more accurate count. The secretary of state’s office started the recount with both candidates at zero, while local news organizations have merely updated the recount totals as they have come in from each county, altering them based on the counties’ original Election Day totals.

While much of the recount process has been complicated, one thing is clear: No one will know the outcome of the election until all of Minnesota’s 87 counties complete the hand recount and the State Canvassing Board determines the disposition of the thousands of challenged ballots.

The secretary of state’s office has asked both campaigns to limit the number of challenged ballots as one estimate said it would take at least a month to go through and rule on them.

The Nov. 4 election came down to 215 votes in Coleman’s favor, triggering an automatic statewide hand recount. But throughout the recount, Coleman’s lead has fluctuated.

Also during the recount, uncounted ballots have surfaced, most recently on Tuesday in a Twin Cities suburban precinct. A ballot safe that broke and was replaced on Election Day, contained 171 ballots that gave Franken a 37-vote boost. Election officials determined they had not been tampered with, only that they had been forgotten.

On Tuesday, the secretary of state’s office asked election officials to study — but not count — thousands of rejected absentee ballots. Minnesota state law gives four reasons for rejecting absentee ballots. The office requested that ballots that did not fit into one of the four criteria be separated into a fifth group.

During a meeting of the State Canvassing Board this week, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie estimated that there are from 500 to 1,000 improperly rejected absentee ballots.

The Franken campaign, which has attempted to show a few examples of voters whose ballots were improperly rejected, considered the decision a victory. The Franken campaign has lobbied the State Canvassing Board to count improperly rejected absentee ballots as votes. The review of the rejected ballots is scheduled to be competed Dec. 18.

The State Canvassing Board is scheduled to begin reviewing contested ballots on Dec. 16.

If state officials are unable to declare a winner, the election could wind up in court — or in the Senate. The 111th Congress is due to be sworn in Jan. 6.

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