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With the state Canvassing Board poised to provide some clarity today in the U.S. Senate recount, Democrat Al Franken produced dozens of affidavits from Minnesotans on Thursday in his latest attempt to build public support for counting improperly rejected absentee ballots.
With Franken unofficially trailing U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman in the recount, the board is expected to decide whether to count what may be hundreds of improperly rejected absentee ballots. The campaign filed a legal brief Thursday that included affidavits from 62 Minnesotans whose absentee votes the campaign said were not properly counted. Franken's lead recount attorney, Marc Elias, said the affidavits were meant to give the board a sense of "what this universe looks like." He speculated there could be more than 1,000 improperly rejected ballots.
The Coleman campaign sent its own message to the five-member panel by withdrawing 225 more ballot challenges Thursday, a move campaign spokesman Mark Drake acknowledged was a "show of good will to the board."
At its meeting this morning, the Canvassing Board is expected to begin tackling the first of three major issues that have clouded the three-week-old recount: the improperly rejected absentee ballots, the thousands of ballot challenges the two campaigns have filed in the recount, and what to do about 133 missing ballots in a Minneapolis precinct.
While all three issues are crucial to Franken's attempt to overtake Coleman, the campaign's focus in the past two days on the rejected absentee ballots showed that they may have particular significance.
Debating what counts
Though there is no definitive evidence of how many improperly rejected absentee ballots might exist, a Star Tribune analysis looked at a partial compilation from 29 counties involving 3,484 ballots. The analysis found that county officials had concluded that 512 absentee ballots were set aside improperly.
The League of Women Voters, Common Cause Minnesota and Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota this week called on board members to count the mistakenly rejected ballots.
"If they were properly cast by voters, they must be counted," said League executive director Keesha Gaskins. "It's not a political issue. If you, the voter, do everything you're supposed to, an administrative failure shouldn't disenfranchise you."
Thursday's affidavits came a day after Franken officials produced a Web video featuring seven voters -- including a man who is quadriplegic -- whose absentee ballots were improperly rejected, the campaign said. The Coleman campaign called the move a brazen attempt to exploit individual voters, but Franken officials said the video had been seen by more than 15,000 viewers and would be made available to the board.
The affidavits, according to Franken's legal brief, include one from Kathryn Simonson, an Otsego woman whose ballot was rejected because she was not a registered voter; Franken's campaign said state records showed she had been registered at her current address since 1988. Another affidavit included the case of Joe Neal of St. Louis Park; the campaign said his absentee ballot was delivered to the wrong precinct and it was decided there was not enough time on election night to forward it to the right precinct.
The Coleman campaign discounted the affidavits, and said Franken's strategy was aimed at what would happen if the board certified Coleman as the recount winner. Franken's campaign, said Luke Friedrich, a Coleman spokesman, "could care less about the outcome of the recount and are instead focusing their energies" on building a legal challenge to the board's action or making their case before the U.S. Senate, which could play a role in filling the Senate seat.
But Elias said the quest to count improperly rejected absentee ballots could yield votes for Coleman as well as Franken. "We have never argued that the only votes that ought to be counted are improperly rejected absentee votes for Al Franken," he said.
Staff writer Bob von Sternberg contributed to this article. Mike Kaszuba • 612-673-4388