Some progress on all those challenges

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA and CURT BROWN • , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: December 2, 2008 - 2:07 PM

As the laborious effort to recount all U.S. Senate votes nears an end, the two campaigns indicated a willingness to withdraw some challenges.

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The people recounting the votes in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race between U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and DFLer Al Franken were back in business on Monday after the long Thanksgiving weekend. Election judges and observers gathered around a table in an elections warehouse in Minneapolis to do their duty.

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With the recount of Minnesota's U.S. Senate race now 92 percent complete, the campaigns signaled Monday that they may soon withdraw some of the thousands of challenges they've made to disputed ballots.

The lead recount lawyer for DFLer Al Franken said the campaign would this week announce the withdrawal of "more than dozens" of challenges made on behalf of the candidate.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman countered later Monday, saying the senator's campaign was "prepared to sit down with the Franken campaign to discuss how to reduce the number of frivolous ballot challenges."

With the state Canvassing Board scheduled to meet in two weeks to finish the recount, and nearly 6,000 votes being challenged by the two campaigns, a Star Tribune tally late Monday showed that Coleman leads by 340 votes. Coleman had challenged 188 more votes than Franken.

The Franken campaign claimed its own internal tally -- which was quickly dismissed by the Coleman campaign -- showed that Coleman's lead had dropped to just 73 votes.

Monday's developments in the closely watched recount came as Ramsey County, one of Minnesota's most populous counties, remained on track to finish its recount today.

"There are many blue [Democratic] areas yet to be counted," said Marc Elias, Franken's lead recount attorney, who spoke in a conference call Monday with reporters. He said Franken won 52.8 percent of the two-way vote in the ballots that remained to be recounted.

Though the state Canvassing Board last week largely thwarted the Franken campaign's attempt to count rejected absentee ballots, Elias said the campaign now had lists from all but eight Minnesota counties indicating that more than 9,000 absentee ballots had been rejected. While acknowledging that most of them were properly rejected, the campaign again Monday said that "there are legal votes here that have not been counted."

Senate an option

Both campaigns have talked previously of eventually scaling back the thousands of ballot challenges they have made, but Elias' comments Monday went further. "It will be more than dozens," said Elias, referring to the campaign's plans to announce the withdrawal of some challenges.

Coleman spokesman Mark Drake downplayed the significance of Elias' announcement, saying that simply dropping dozens of challenges "doesn't seem like too much of a dent." Drake said he did not know whether the Coleman campaign would likewise independently withdraw challenges as early as this week.

Drake also said the Franken campaign seemed to be moving closer to asking the U.S. Senate to decide the ultimate outcome, and said it was another sign Franken intended to "ignore the results of the recount."

Elias denied that any decision had been made to put the election in the hands of the U.S. Senate, but added that "obviously, the Senate remains an option."

The U.S. Constitution gives each house of Congress broad authority to judge the elections and qualifications of its members.

Finishing up in Ramsey

In Ramsey County, where the task of recounting 278,000 ballots should conclude today, the volume of challenged ballots was down a bit Monday. At some of the recount tables, observers from both campaigns were "trading" ballots they originally challenged if the other side agreed to waive the same number of its challenges in cases where the voters' intent was clear.

"I think it has slacked off a bit today," said Joe Mansky, Ramsey County's elections manager. "I'm hoping the campaigns sat down over the weekend and realized it's in their best interest to boil down the number of challenged ballots before they present them to the state Canvassing Board."

With the Canvassing Board not meeting until Dec. 16, Mansky said there is plenty of time for both sides to waive challenges that clearly won't hold up, so the five-member panel can focus on the "appropriate ballots in question."

Ramsey County recounters will re-tally the ballots cast in Maplewood today to finish up the state's largest recount effort at a single site. Both campaigns have sent in revolving teams of observers to the Plato Boulevard county recount site and "some tend to be more provocative," Mansky said, which he said slows down the routine.

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673 Curt Brown • 612-673-4767

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