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Minnesota's contentious, tedious Senate trial could end today

ST. PAUL - What could be the final day of Minnesota's U.S. Senate trial is receiving more attention than it did during seven weeks of testimony.

Today's activities drew a packed crowd of reporters, campaign staff, family of court staff and some members of the public into a courtroom generally used by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie also was there.

The trial resumed at 9:35 p.m., five minutes late. All had to walk through a metal detector to get in, the first time anyone can recall a metal detector being used for the Senate recount proceedings.

A three-judge panel was to decide today how many of nearly 400 rejected absentee ballots will be counted in the race between Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman. As court began, it was not clear when the judges will make final decisions.

Coleman is seeking to overturn Franken's 225-vote recount victory, but Franken's lawyers are optimistic his lead will be upheld and Coleman already has signaled an appeal to the state Supreme Court. The loser in that step could appeal to federal courts.

As the state-court case is winding down, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Monday legal appeals could delay the seating of Minnesota's second senator for "a few more months."

The judges last week ordered 400 ballots sent to St. Paul from around the state, and a final batch of ballots - from Carlton, Freeborn and Wright counties - arrived Monday at Ritchie's office.

The unopened absentee ballots - enclosed in sealed envelopes - were handed over to the court. The judges reviewed the ballot envelopes behind closed doors Monday.