WASHINGTON — The US Senate election in Minnesota was seven weeks ago but they're still counting ballots and a state newspaper has opened an exclusive online window into the seemingly never-ending process.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune is displaying scans of the contested ballots from the November 4 election between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken on its website at senaterecount.startribune.com.
The newspaper has even invited readers to vote on which contested ballots should go to which candidate, a feature it calls the "Coleman-Franken Ballot Challenge."
"It's immensely popular," said Star-Tribune assistant managing editor for political affairs Dennis McGrath. "It continues to be the most-viewed item on our website and has been for essentially a month now."
To help out readers, the Star-Tribune has included an explanation of what election judges are looking for as they scrutinize the scribbling on each hand-marked ballot to try to determine the intent of the voter.
As of Tuesday, 29,735 people have cast a total of 2.5 million votes in the "Ballot Challenge," McGrath said, and the results of the newspaper vote are nearly a "perfect match" with the official tally.
"We've had some people who have voted on every single ballot -- all 6,000 plus ballots," McGrath said. "It's astounding."
Franken, a comedian running for office for the first time, is currently leading the recount by 46 votes from the more than 2.9 million cast in the state in the election, in which Democrat Barack Obama won the presidency.
McGrath told AFP the newspaper also provided live streaming of the meetings of the canvassing board which ruled on the ballot challenges.
"We were getting viewership of this thing literally worldwide," he said. "I got an email from a guy in Berlin saying he was fascinated to watch this whole process play out."
The newspaper also developed a "Senate recount widget" for readers to embed on their websites, blogs, Facebook or MySpace pages which provides the recount numbers and latest headlines.
Coleman led Franken by 188 votes after all of the ballots were counted by hand, but Franken has edged ahead during the scrutiny of the ballots which have been challenged by the opposing camps.
As the recount drags on and legal action looms, time is running out for Minnesota to decide between Coleman and Franken before the 111th US Congress convenes next month in Washington.
"No one can say anything with any certainty about any of this," McGrath said, "but it's looking increasingly unlikely that they'll have certified a winner by January 6."
The Minnesota election battle has already surpassed the 2000 presidential race between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore, which was resolved by the US Supreme Court five weeks after the vote.
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