A state board examining disputed ballots in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race is close to wrapping up its decisions on challenges, but a key court ruling has practically guaranteed that the recount drags into the new year.
The Canvassing Board hoped to finish ruling Friday on the remaining challenges to disputed ballots. On Thursday, Republican incumbent Norm Coleman saw his lead shrink from 360 votes to just two as most challenges were rejected. He had a 215-vote lead over Democrat Al Franken after the initial count of the Nov. 4 election.
But the final outcome of the recount will also depend on some 5,000 withdrawn challenges that have not yet been allocated to the candidates. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said those wouldn't be allocated until next week at the earliest.
The Minnesota Supreme Court, meanwhile, ruled Thursday that improperly rejected absentee ballots be included in the state's recount. It ordered the candidates to work with the secretary of state and election officials to set up a process to identify ballots that were rejected in error. Counties must make a report by Dec. 31.
The court said the candidates will have a chance to challenge the estimated 1,600 absentee ballots as they are unsealed and counted, just as they did during the earlier hand recount.
Justice Alan Page dissented, warning that giving the candidates a say in identifying the ballots was a mistake.
Coleman's lead eroded all day Thursday as the Canvassing Board considered a pile of challenges brought entirely by the Coleman campaign. The pile included a big chunk of withdrawn challenges, many of which went quickly to Franken's column.