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Continued: Smaller vote pool may hurt Coleman

In the end, the pool turned out to be pretty shallow.

Republican Norm Coleman had hoped an inspection of hundreds of secrecy envelopes holding rejected absentee ballots would yield enough additional votes to help him cut into DFLer Al Franken's 225-vote lead. But it turned out that only 89 of them had valid registrations.

That means Coleman's pool of 1,725 ballots that he has said should be counted probably has shrunk by several hundred -- at least for now -- making it more difficult for him to overtake Franken.

"It will reduce it somewhat, no doubt about that," said Coleman legal spokesman Ben Ginsberg. But he added that some other secrecy envelopes might become sources for new ballots, and recent testimony could cause yet other rejected ballots to come into play.

The three-judge panel hearing the U.S. Senate trial ordered county officials to inspect about 1,500 secrecy envelopes, which the two campaigns identified as possibly containing the completed voter registration forms needed for them to be counted. Each campaign had identified roughly the same number of envelopes for inspection.

It was not known for whom the ballots were cast, but two-thirds of those containing valid registrations are from counties that Coleman carried on Nov. 4.

Because of the size of his deficit, Coleman needs to put a substantial number of new ballots in play. The 700 secrecy envelopes that he identified for inspection were among thousands of ballots that he has claimed may have been improperly rejected.

After the secretary of state's office identified the 89 as having valid registration forms, Franken lawyer Marc Elias said the number was well below the threshold that "might have opened up" the contest. Elias also said the 89 ballots could be challenged on other grounds.

Numbers 'floating around'

The registration cards weren't found on Election Day because voters put them in the wrong envelope. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann said that registration cards also were found in 72 other envelopes but were incomplete. Ginsberg cited those registrations as possibly being in play, bringing the new ballots to 161.

Ginsberg declined to confirm that the secrecy ballot findings left the Coleman campaign with far fewer than 1,725 ballots in play. He said Coleman could identify about 300 ballots that might have been wrongly rejected because of supposedly mismatched signatures, and another 100 to 150 involving voters who are listed as unregistered because of errors in the state data base.

"I'm reluctant to play the absolute number game because this is all floating around," he said.

Here is a county breakdown of 89 rejected-absentee ballot envelopes that were found to have properly completed registration cards. The letter in parentheses after the county name indicates which candidate carried that county (C - Coleman; F- Franken); it does not indicate for whom these ballots were cast.

Anoka (C), 1; Clay (C), 4; Crow Wing (C), 1; Dakota (C), 15; Faribault (C), 1; Goodhue (C), 1; Hennepin (F), 15 (Brooklyn Center, 1; Corcoran, 1; Edina, 1; Maple Grove, 2; Minneapolis, 8; Plymouth, 2); Koochiching (F), 1; McLeod (C), 3; Morrison (C), 1; Mower (F), 3; Olmsted (C), 15; Polk (C), 1; Pope (C), 1; Ramsey (F), 6; Steele (C), 1; Swift (F), 1; Washington (C), 14; Winona (F), 2; Wright (C), 1.

In another development Monday, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected a separate bid by 30 voters -- most of them believed to be Franken supporters -- to intercede in the trial to have their ballots counted. However, it appears that at least 10 of them will have their ballots accepted anyhow because they were called to testify by the Franken campaign.

The high court dismissed the motion of the 30 after the petitioners withdrew it, following Coleman opposition to it being filed too late.

pdoyle@startribune.com • 651-222-1210

kduchschere@startribune.com • 651-292-0164

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