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Scott Wente, Published February 27 2009

63 counties ordered to check 1,500 ballots

ST. PAUL – Judges in Minnesota’s Senate election trial want county officials’ help.

The court on Thursday ordered 63 counties and some cities to examine roughly 1,500 uncounted absentee ballot envelopes to determine whether voters mistakenly placed voter registration cards in the envelope.

The order was a first step toward possibly adding a large group of votes in the Senate election tally, but the court’s order did not say any of the ballots definitively would be counted as part of the trial.

Officials in local counties were included in that directive. Officials from Clay County, which contains Moorhead, were asked to check 14 ballots. Officials in Becker were asked to check six ballots; Otter Tail, three; and Polk, one.

Norm Coleman is challenging Al Franken’s 225-vote recount victory in the trial, which is wrapping up its fifth week. The court is hearing testimony about absentee ballots that were rejected during the election but that the campaigns believe should be counted.

In the judges’ order, county election officials are asked to open the “secrecy envelope” for an identified list of voters and, without looking at the ballot, determine whether the voter also placed a voter registration card inside.

During the election, the sealed absentee ballots were rejected because the voter was not registered, though trial testimony has shown some voters registered when they cast their absentee ballots, but put the registration information in the sealed secrecy envelope rather than in an outer envelope.

The counties are told to document the ballot envelopes for which there are completed registrations, no registrations and incomplete registrations. Those lists must be sent to the secretary of state’s office.

The court wants the work completed by 4 p.m. Wednesday, “in order to expedite proceedings” in the case.

“We’re really pleased with it because it’s more ballots to potentially get counted,” Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said of the order.

The campaigns agreed to the process, he said.

On Thursday, the trial’s 24th day, the judges heard from a Minneapolis election official who testified that an envelope containing 132 ballots from a city precinct went missing between election night and the statewide recount.


Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or swente@forumcomm.com