Democrat Al Franken's bid for a U.S. Senate seat received a boost from a Minnesota court opinion on Tuesday limiting the number of votes still to be counted, but his Republican rival promised to appeal.
Norm Coleman's lawyer, Ben Ginsberg, said the three-judge panel's ruling to count up to 400 previously excluded absentee ballots next week meant it was a "long shot" that Coleman could overtake Franken's 225-vote lead.
Coleman, who is seeking a second term, has argued that thousands of previously rejected absentee ballots be added to the tally.
If Franken is declared the winner, Democrats will control 59 of the 100 Senate seats - still one shy of the 60 needed to overcome Republican procedural roadblocks.
Marc Elias, Franken's lawyer, agreed the ruling favored Franken maintaining his lead when the remaining ballots are inspected and counted by the panel on April 7.
"The math is the math," Elias said.
Ginsberg said the court's rulings had been unfair and would be appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court - and possibly beyond - keeping the seat vacant for the time being.
He argued the Minnesota judges applied differing criteria for determining voter qualifications in the November 4 election, violating the Constitution's equal protection clause.
The issue came into play in the 2000 presidential contest ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of Republican George W. Bush.
Some Senate Republicans have vowed to keep the seat vacant until all legal avenues have been pursued. Senate Democrats have been cautious in seeking to have Franken seated.
Coleman held a razor-thin lead after the election over Franken, a well-known satirist and a former writer and actor for the popular "Saturday Night Live" television show.
An automatic recount of the 2.4 million votes cast for the two men gave Franken a 225-vote lead. That result was challenged in court by Coleman.
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