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Local election officials have identified 1,350 improperly rejected absentee ballots in the unresolved U.S. Senate race, and DFLer Al Franken wants them all counted.
In a letter sent Saturday morning to attorneys representing Sen. Norm Coleman, Franken campaign attorney David Lillehaug proposed accepting the list submitted Friday by county election managers, clearing the way for all the ballots to be opened and counted by next Sunday.
Coleman officials, however, had not responded by the 4 p.m. Saturday deadline in Lillehaug's letter, setting the stage for a possibly contentious series of regional meetings throughout the state where counties and campaign representatives would have to resolve differences about which ballots to count.
Coleman's spokesman, Mark Drake, declined to comment directly on Franken's proposal. But he released a statement Saturday night, saying: "The Supreme Court provided a road map and a process that we intend to follow -- a process that was agreed upon by the Franken campaign, the Secretary of State and county auditors. The Franken campaign consistently looks to break the rules to attempt to win an election that they couldn't win on election day.
"It is obvious that mistakes were made on election day, and we intend to work with local election officials to ensure that this process is followed consistently, fairly and uniformly."
With Franken claiming an unofficial lead of 46 votes in the recount tally, the rejected absentee ballots are likely to determine who will fill the U.S. Senate seat now held by the Republican Coleman.
In the latest phase of Minnesota's quest to choose a senator, the campaigns had turned this weekend to the task of creating and accepting a single list of wrongfully rejected absentee ballots that should now be counted. The Coleman campaign had asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to decide the matter, but the court ordered the counties and campaigns to work it out.
Although Lillehaug's letter said the offer would remain open only until 4 p.m. Saturday, Franken spokesman Andy Barr said Saturday night that the campaign would welcome agreement from Coleman's campaign at any time.
"We are hopeful that the Coleman campaign shares our interest in avoiding the improper disenfranchisement of lawful voters and also avoiding unnecessary delays in the process," Barr said.
Ballots that both campaigns and the counties agree were improperly rejected will be sent, unopened, to the secretary of state's office by Friday for counting by next Sunday.
On Tuesday, the state Canvassing Board will take up the allocation of votes from withdrawn ballot challenges. Also remaining to be resolved is a Coleman complaint that 130 to 150 ballots may have been counted twice.
Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056