Republican Norm Coleman's case in the U.S. Senate trial, once built on the prospects of counting thousands of rejected absentee ballots, is now down to 1,360 ballots or fewer.

That's the number his lawyers gave to a three-judge panel Wednesday in hopes that the ballots will yield enough votes for Coleman to surmount a 225-vote lead held by Democrat Al Franken.

About 60 percent of those ballots come from counties that Coleman carried in the November election. One-third of the total were from counties that went for him by 10 percentage points or more.

In Hennepin County, which Franken carried, Coleman has reason to hope he will mine votes. Only one of the 297 ballots he identified there comes from heavily Democratic Minneapolis. The remainder are from suburbs where Republicans fare better.

But the number of new ballots counted might be substantially lower than those Coleman identified.

"Their spreadsheet tells the full story as to what they have proved in their case and ... it's not much," said Franken lead lawyer Marc Elias.

He cited printouts to argue that Coleman's ballots lacked the documents needed to prove that they were wrongly rejected under rules established by the trial court.

Coleman legal spokesman Ben Ginsberg called Elias' view of the spreadsheet "balderdash." Coleman has maintained that the ballots deserve to be counted under Election Day standards that were more lenient than those laid out in orders by the panel at trial.

Even if the court accepts all of the 1,360 ballots for counting, it's not clear Coleman's gains would be large.

Dean Barkley and other candidates won 17 percent of the vote in the counties Coleman's ballots came from. If those ballots go for Barkley in the same way, it would further reduce the pool that Coleman can tap.

If the ballots identified by Coleman were allocated to the candidates based on the percentage of the vote each got in the counties the ballots came from, Coleman would pick up 596 votes, Franken would pick up 539 and other candidates would get 225.

Whatever Coleman picks up from his list could be diluted by any ballots Franken identifies and the court approves.

More evidence sought

Elias said the spreadsheet showed that Coleman has not proven that a single one of the 1,360 ballots listed is eligible to be counted under the court's standards of evidence. In their motion to dismiss all or part of Coleman's case last week, Franken's lawyers asked the judges not to reconsider such ballots. At the time, they conceded that perhaps nine ballots could be counted.

Nearly half of Coleman's ballots, Elias said, lack proof that the voter or the witness was registered. About the same number have no record of an absentee ballot envelope or application listed. In many other cases, there is no proof that the absentee ballot wasn't cast by someone who voted in person.

Ginsberg repeated the Coleman theme that varying standards by county officials, the state Canvassing Board and the panel have resulted in some ballots being counted while nearly identical ones were rejected.

"The court has apparently given us different standards at different times," he said.

In an effort to gather more evidence to justify counting ballots, Coleman issued subpoenas Tuesday night to county officials for documents regarding 120 ballots.

But Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton told the panel Wednesday it was improper, given that the Coleman team had already rested its case and has only its rebuttal left to offer. "Insisting on responses within less than 24 hours, and all to collect evidence that appears to be outside the scope of any proper rebuttal case, seems to be just a bridge too far," Hamilton said.

Rejected absentee ballots

Friedberg countered that the ballots only require documentary support, and that developments since the Coleman team rested made the subpoenas appropriate. Judge Denise Reilly said the court would take the matter under advisement.

Coleman has turned primarily to counting rejected absentee ballots in his effort to overcome a 225-vote lead that Franken gained in a recount.

In other developments Wednesday, the panel granted a request by 14 voters believed to be Franken supporters to have their ballots counted. They had taken legal action independent of the two candidates. The panel also said Coleman would need to get sealed documents from county officials confirming that an absentee ballot had not been cast by someone who voted on election day.

Coleman rested his case March 2. In presenting his case since then, Franken cited 804 rejected absentee ballots that he wants considered for counting. His side has taken testimony from more than 60 witnesses that their ballots were rejected for no apparent reason and says it is obtaining documentation from counties confirming that other rejected ballots should be counted.

Although Franken's lawyers had expected to call their final witnesses today, bad weather and other factors will extend their case until at least Thursday.

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210 Kevin Duchschere • 651-292-0164