Friday, the canvassing board concluded four days of peering at ovals and reading minds. More to come. Then it's litigation, followed by an inconclusive decision, and then Coleman and Franken will be handed switchblades and tied together at the wrist. Could be worse; we could be in Blagojevich land, where an Illinois-style recount would consist of the following:

The canvassing board would consist of five guys who'd paid off the Undersecretary for Bribery so he'd hire their brothers as "Pedestrian Traffic Facilitators," meaning they'd get 100K per year to stand at the street corner and shout "THE LIGHT SAYS WALK, ALREADY" when it changed. And even then they wouldn't have to show up. The meetings wouldn't be open to the public, and the ballots for the non-machine candidates would be mysteriously spoiled by "coffee stains." Translated: someone "accidentally" drove a truck through the window of a Starbucks while the courier with the ballots was ordering a latte.

They send one of your ballots to the challenge pile, you send two of theirs to the garbage! Covered with grounds! That's the Chicago way!

What do we have? Five earnest public servants sitting under the lights staring at ballots that look like someone taped a Sharpie to the side of his face and pretended he was bobbing for apples. These voters are the reason they say "please drive ahead" in the fast-food lane, because some people think the burgers will come out of the speaker. The board is doing its best to figure out what these people wanted, because everything comes down to them. It's like the NBA championship going to the team that sent out the water boy and had him throw the ball from the center line with his eyes closed.

But the refs wouldn't allow that, unless this was a movie starring Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell, and neither has made an appearance to argue for the Coleman or Franken camp yet. So what have we learned? Well, if you want your ballot to be featured in the next close election, here are some new rules.

If you spent five frustrating minutes in the booth before you realized that the other end of the pen is the inky-pointy part, practice at home for a while next time.

If you create your own oval between the names, the judges can only conclude you wished to vote for some mythical being who combined elements of both candidates into some sort of Senatorial Centaur who can be expected to stomp his hooves twice to vote yes for single-payer health care, and once to vote no on precipitous withdrawal from Iraq. Senate rules prohibit human-animal hybrids from taking office, so that vote's rejected.

If you X out a vote and fill in another oval, it's probably a vote for the oval guy. If you combine an oval with an X, they'll read that as an emphatic yes. If you combine an oval, an X, then circle the name, it means you voted yes, crossed it out, wrestled with your demons, then changed your mind again. An oval, X, circle, underlined name, and a small-caliber bullet-hole through the ballot, however, is too ambiguous to count.

If you spoil your ballot, ask for another, even if you're afraid the lutefisk-pussed election-judge will give you the hairy eyeball. Through simple human error it might end up as a Challenged Ballot, so sign it with your name. Yes, that also disqualifies a ballot. But at least if you see it in the paper you can call someone up and tell them what you meant. We're dying to know.

If that's the vote that puts guy over, well, that's how it goes. You might wonder if the winner gives you something out of gratitude, Please: Minnesota may have a Cook County like Illinois, but that's where the similarity stops. You might get the Canvassing Board Game, so you can play along at home.

That could violate ethics rules, though. They'll look into it. Give them a while. It's been a long year. • 612-673-7858 More daily at