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December 12, 2008

Critical day in Minnesota Senate race

Today is a critical day in the Minnesota Senate race between Sen. Norm Coleman and Al Franken.

The Minnesota Canvassing Board is currently meeting to vote on two crucial decisions that could ultimately determine the race’s winner.

The first decision is whether to include absentee ballots that were unfairly rejected on Election Day into the recount tally. Election officials throughout the state have been sorting absentee ballots based on why they were rejected – and putting aside a fifth group (called the “fifth pile”) with those unfairly rejected ballots.

Franken's campaign is fighting to include these ballots in the recount tally, while the Coleman campaign believes they should not be counted now, and only if the Franken campaign contests the recount .

The Franken campaign has estimated that over 1,000 ballots fall into this “fifth pile” category – and if they’re included, they could potentially overturn Coleman’s razor-thin lead. Coleman’s campaign has said the number of rejected absentee ballots is much smaller

Minnesota's Attorney General Lori Swanson issued an opinion this morning in favor of the Franken position, arguing that improperly rejected absentee ballots can be counted as part of a statewide recount.

The second decision is whether 133 ballots that potentially went missing from a Minneapolis precinct since the election. The Franken campaign is arguing that the original count from Election Night should be the official tally. Coleman’s campaign still believes the ballots may never have existed in the first place, and they shouldn’t be counted.

In a victory for the Franken campaign, the Canvassing Board unanimously ruled that the Election Night results should be used.  Earlier Swanson issued an opinion urging the Canvassing Board include the missing ballots in the count.

“I believe there is authority … to include the election night returns,” Swanson said.

UPDATE:  Minnesota Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann predicted that about 1,587 absentee ballots were unfairly rejected -- a much greater number than the Coleman campaign anticipated.   So far, 638 ballots in 49 counties have been officially identified as wrongly rejected.