ST. PAUL, Minn. - Only a tiny fraction of the 1,500 sealed absentee ballot envelopes that judges in the Minnesota Senate trial ordered searched for voter registration cards contained the key document, a state official said Monday as the trial entered its seventh week.
Without proof of registration it's unlikely those voters will have their ballots counted, further shrinking the pile of votes from which Republican Norm Coleman can make up his 225-vote deficit to Democrat Al Franken after a statewide recount.
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann said county and city elections workers found about 80 properly completed registration cards in the secrecy envelopes of absentee ballots. The cards weren't found on Election Day because the voters put them in the wrong envelope.
The judges hearing Coleman's election lawsuit asked for the review of ballot envelopes that were rejected because of registration issues as the panel considers which to include after all in the Senate tally.
It wasn't immediately clear which of the ballots with newly found registration cards were highlighted by either campaign; they had a comparable amount on the list of ballot envelopes searched.
Franken lawyer Marc Elias suspects there are other deficiencies that could disqualify ballots where registration cards were found. "It's not likely the 80 will yield 80 votes," he said.
Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said it's still a sizable number of votes that will now be counted.
"There are a number of wrongly excluded ballots showing up day by day and week by week in the trial. It tells you how the system has got some inaccuracies in it," Ginsberg said.
Gelbmann said there were another handful of valid registration cards found apart from the envelopes. He also put those on a spreadsheet provided Friday to the judges, who haven't said what they plan to do with the information from the search. The sheet also lists 72 envelopes with registration cards deemed deficient.
Uncounted absentee ballots are a focal point of the Senate trial.
Both sides are searching hard for new votes, as illustrated by a somewhat morbid exchange in court Monday morning.
Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton questioned Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky about the rejection of an absentee ballot belonging to a now-deceased voter.
Donald Simmons dated his envelope Oct. 29, but for an unknown reason the ballot wasn't counted on Election Day. Mansky said Simmons' registration appeared to be in order, his witness was valid and all other requirements were met. Simmons now appears in the voter database as deceased.
"The question here is did he die in that narrow window between October 29 and November 4," Hamilton said, building toward a broader question for Mansky. "As long as you're alive at some point on Election Day your ballot should count?"
"Yes," Mansky answered.
"So what we would need to figure out is the time or date of death," Hamilton continued.
"Correct," Mansky replied.
A Minnesota Department of Health spokesman said Simmons died on Nov. 27.