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Franken Widens Lead in Minnesota

Local county officials began the process of sorting and counting approximately 1,350 wrongfully rejected absentee ballots Tuesday morning, despite late requests from Sen. Norm Coleman’s (R-Minn.) campaign to include more than 600 additional ballots in the review.

Meanwhile, comedian Al Franken (D) extended his lead to 50 votes over Coleman as the remaining handfuls of disputed challenged ballots were resolved and counted at the state canvassing board meeting Tuesday morning.

According to Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, local officials have started sorting — but not opening or counting — the 1,350 wrongfully rejected absentee ballots they identified earlier this month. Ritchie said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon that the process has “gone very smoothly,” and some counties have “forwarded their ballots to us already.”

According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, ballot sorting in Anoka County stopped Tuesday because of disagreements between the campaigns, although the newspaper also reported that sorting continued peacefully in other counties across the state.

Counties are scheduled to meet Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday to sort the sealed absentee ballots, which are due to the secretary of state’s office by 11:59 p.m. Friday. Officials will begin to open and count the ballots on Saturday, during which both campaigns will have the opportunity to challenge a vote based on voter intent or stray marks. The state canvassing board will consider the challenged ballots on Monday — a process that could take hours or days, depending on how many ballots were challenged.

While Franken’s campaign agreed mostly with local officials’ set list of 1,350 wrongfully rejected absentee ballots, Coleman’s campaign submitted a different set of ballots at a late Monday afternoon meeting with the campaigns and the secretary of state. Because there was no consensus at the Monday afternoon meeting, the secretary of state’s office said additional ballots could not be added to the list under the rules stipulated by the state Supreme Court.

“The only way to add any ballots — forget the deadline, forget anything — is that all three parties must agree: the Franken campaign, the Coleman campaign and the local election officials,” Ritchie said.

But Coleman attorney Tony Trimble warned Tuesday that because their campaign sent counties a different list of ballots, the sorting process was destined to be haphazard.

“We’ve got a hodgepodge going on right now, which of course puts huge inconsistencies in that alone,” Trimble said in a phone interview.

In a conference call with reporters after the canvassing board meeting, Franken recount attorney Marc Elias declined to predict how the counties would count these ballots.

“We’re going to get reports during the day on how this process is going on in the various counties,” Elias said. “The Coleman campaign has never been particularly interested in getting these ballots counted, so we’ll see what strategy they bring to the counties.”

Attorneys for Coleman have promised to file a lawsuit with the state if Coleman still does not lead in the final recount, which they believe would be a result of double voting in heavily Democratic precincts, among other things.

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