In blow to Coleman, court orders just 400 ballots be examined
ST. PAUL - Minnesota's U.S. Senate race is down to 400 absentee ballots.
A three-judge panel this afternoon ordered county officials to send those 400 ballots to the secretary of state's office by Monday.
The court is to open and count at least some of the ballots a week from today, possibility ending this phase of the battle between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.
Tuesday's order indicates the three judges conducted "a thorough review of the evidence" and next week will decide which of the 400 votes will be counted.
The 400 number could be considered a setback for Coleman because it is unlikely he can gain enough votes to overtake Franken. Coleman, who left office early this year when his term expired, trails by 225 votes.
Many of the 400 votes are in Democratic-heavy areas such as St. Louis and Hennepin counties.
Regardless of who wins the district court case, the loser is expected to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. A further appeal to federal courts also is possible.
Coleman entered the court case claiming thousands of ballots should be counted.
The Republican led immediately after the Nov. 4 election, but Franken wound up on top after a recount. During that process, counties and some cities counted each of the 2.9 million ballots by hand.
The campaigns challenged some of the vote calls. The Canvassing Board -- four judges and the secretary of state -- reviewed more than 1,500 challenges and assigned the votes, often overruling the campaigns' challenges.
Coleman announced Jan. 6 that he would challenge the election in court.
A day earlier, the state Canvassing Board certified election results that gave Franken 225 more votes than Coleman. But the Republican, who wants a second Senate term, alleged ballot-counting irregularities led to a flawed tally.
"This is not just about me," Coleman said of his election contest. "The eyes of the nation are on the state that we love and we need to show them that Minnesota has done everything we can to make sure that we protect every voter's right."
Some voters were counted twice while other lawfully cast ballots went uncounted, Coleman alleges.
For instance, Coleman claims, local elected officials around the state applied differently standards when deciding which absentee ballots should be counted on Election Day and during the statewide recount.
That recount was automatically triggered by the razor-thin margin separating Coleman and Franken.
The campaigns' positioning on absentee ballots in the election contest is a reversal of sorts. Coleman's campaign asked that all 12,000 rejected absentee ballots be considered in the trial and Franken has opposed that.
Early in the recount, Franken argued that some absentee ballots were rejected improperly and should be included. Coleman's campaign fought against that.