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Patrick Condon, Published February 11 2009

Coleman says judges' order could shorten Minnesota Senate trial

ST. PAUL, Minn. – A lawyer for Republican Norm Coleman said Wednesday that Minnesota’s Senate trial could go faster thanks to a judicial order likely to cut the absentee ballots that have to be reconsidered.

The three-judge panel set out 19 different reasons that uncounted absentee ballots were rejected in the race between Coleman and Democrat Al Franken. They’ve ordered both candidates to submit arguments by the end of the trial day today on whether those ballots could be ruled in or out by category – rather than considered one by one.

“If they pull out certain categories, those are categories we won’t be presenting evidence on,” Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said.

Coleman’s lawyers are arguing that about 4,700 rejected ballots should be counted. But decisions by the judges could quickly narrow the number of ballots that Coleman has to argue for.

Franken’s lawyers praised the judges’ efforts to reduce the number of ballots in dispute. Franken wants about 800 additional rejected ballots to be counted.

The 19 categories laid out by the judges are very specific. Previously, the judges said they would count rejected ballots if they fell into one of two broad categories: those where it appeared the voter had met the legal requirements of voting absentee but got rejected anyway, and those where they might have run afoul of the law because of mistakes by election officials.

They’re now seeking input from the two parties before they decide whether specific reasons for rejecting ballots meet one of those two categories. For instance: “An absentee ballot cast by a voter registered and eligible to vote in a precinct who was issued a ballot for the wrong precinct due to official error.”

Lawyers for both candidates said they weren’t yet able to say how many of the rejected absentee ballots they want included would fall into one of the 19 categories established by the judges.

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