Legal teams for Norm Coleman and Al Franken are focusing their efforts in the U.S. Senate election trial on counting rejected absentee ballots from counties that their candidate won in November.

Two-thirds of the 804 ballots on Franken's latest list, released over the weekend, are from counties where the DFLer prevailed. And 60 percent of those are from counties Franken won by 10 percentage points or more.

Franken also proposes to count another 781 rejected absentee ballots that are among a much larger group that Coleman at one point also wanted to include.

But while Coleman's larger list, initially numbering about 5,000, was made up of ballots from generally Republican areas, three-fifths of the 781 that Franken wants to count come from counties that he carried.

Both sides deny that they are choosing ballots with the best chance of favoring their candidate.

Rulings on Monday

Meanwhile, a ruling Monday by the three-judge panel overseeing the trial allowed the inclusion of 12 absentee ballots sought by Franken and denied for now an additional 39. The ruling also denied Franken's bid to block Coleman's challenge of the results from a Minneapolis precinct where the Election Night machine count was used after 133 ballots couldn't be found during the hand recount.

In another ruling Monday, the court denied Coleman's motion, argued two weeks ago, to bring a class action on behalf of 11,000 voters whose absentee ballots were rejected. State election law doesn't permit a class action, the court said, and there are too many unique factual questions for such a suit.

At trial Monday, lawyers from both sides questioned state elections director Gary Poser about duplicate ballots in addition to election officials from Maple Grove, Rogers and Benton County about a number of disputed absentee ballots.

Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said he thought his side could wrap up its case this week after calling a few more election officials to the stand.

Ginsberg said the Coleman team has submitted a list of nearly 600 rejected absentee ballots in three categories that it believes should be counted -- 306 with registration issues, 168 with so-called signature mismatches and about 100 involving witness registration problems. That's fewer than the number of ballots that Coleman first identified in those categories.

Coleman also has given the court a list of 816 ballots currently rejected for lack of registration; the campaign says the necessary registration forms might be found if the ballot secrecy envelopes were searched, Ginsberg said.

He added that while those lists "reduce our total [ballots] somewhat," he remains confident that in the end the court will find 2,000 to 2,500 ballots valid for counting in Coleman's quest to overtake Franken's 225-vote recount lead.

But Franken attorney Marc Elias said that the ballots submitted by Coleman showed that the Republican's pool of possible ballots continued to shrink.

"The smaller that his universe becomes, the harder it is for him to make up that margin ... That might explain why as we've gone along, the Coleman campaign seems to have shifted more and more towards claiming fundamental errors in the process as opposed to trying to focus on those counts," he said.

Coleman's focus

Coleman currently is focusing attention on 3,300 to 3,500 absentee ballots that he says were improperly rejected.

Those ballots were among the roughly 5,000 ballots that he wanted reconsidered before a Feb. 13 ruling by the three-judge panel effectively reduced the field of eligible ballots.

Many were from Republican-leaning suburbs in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, counties that nonetheless went to Franken overall on the strength of large Democratic constituencies in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Excluding those two counties, more than 80 percent of the remaining rejected absentee ballots came from counties Coleman won in November. Of those, nearly 1,100 were from counties Coleman won by more than 10 percent.

The biggest single number was from Carver County, which Coleman carried by 25.8 percentage points -- his largest margin in the state. • 651-292-0164 • 651-222-1210