Democrat Al Franken’s hopes of beating GOP Sen. Norm Coleman received a major boost Friday morning when Minnesota’s five-member Canvassing Board unanimously voted to order the counting of any absentee ballots deemed to have been improperly rejected on Election Day.
That ruling followed a report to the Canvassing Board from the secretary of state’s office that as many as 1,600 of the state’s 12,500 rejected absentee ballots may have been set aside improperly.
The board was told that 49 counties had examined 4,823 rejected ballots. Upon further reflection, the county election officials said, 638 of those ballots, or about 13 percent, were wrongfully rejected. It is not known which candidate won the majority of the 638 ballots now considered legitimate.
“It looks like a significant number,” said Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat who serves as the board’s chairman.
Also, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, also a Democrat, recommended to the board that it include the disputed ballots in the state’s final tally.
Coleman has been clinging to a narrow, 192-vote following a recount completed one week ago. The post-election recount struggle took a new twist yesterday when Franken’s campaign submitted 62 affidavits from Minnesota voters protesting that their absentee ballots were improperly rejected.
Franken’s campaign also posted to YouTube a video of emotional appeals from voters asking that their rejected absentee ballots be counted. That two-pronged maneuver was widely seen as an effort to pressure the Canvassing Board into accepting ballots ruled to have been improperly excluded.
Across the state, over 12,000 absentee ballots were rejected on Election Day, most because they were improperly filled out, or submitted by someone not on the voter rolls. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the patience of Canvassing Board officials may be running out.
“You’d have to be deaf and dumb, uh, intellectually challenged, not to hear people wondering if all these challenges are serious,” stated board member Kathleen Gearin, a Ramsey County judge. “I just hope both sides are respecting every single ballot they see. Please, please, be serious.”
Today’s decision mean all 87 counties will be asked to include in their tallies any ballots that local officials decide were improperly excluded. The Canvassing Board members say they only have the power to make that recommendation, and cannot legally require local officials to count disputed ballots.
The Canvassing Board expects to receive adjusted tallies, with the new ballots included, sometime next week.
Franken won another skirmish earlier in Friday’s proceedings. The Canvassing Board ruled that it will accept the Election Day vote tally, rather the recount tally, in Ward 3, Precinct 1, where 132 ballots had reportedly gone missing. Without that ruling, Franken would have lost approximately 46 net votes.
The Board is scheduled to meet again on Dec. 16 to begin ruling on individual challenges to ballots. Hundreds of challenges have been dropped by the two candidates, and approximately 4,472 challenges remain to be reviewed.
“We are pleased that the state Canvassing Board has affirmed what we always believed to be true,” Franken campaign spokesman Andy Barr told TheHill.com. “Minnesota is not a state that disenfranchises its voters.”
Coleman’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
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