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Coleman-Franken contest remains contentious and tight

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2736606934_eaa79401bd.jpg

More than three weeks after election day, the U.S. Senate contest between Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Al Franken remains undecided. With more than 80 percent of the 2.92-million ballots recounted, the incumbent clings to a roughly 200-vote lead — almost the exact margin he maintained when the process got underway on November 19. The outcome of this tight race will likely hinge on a few thorny issues still in play. One such problem is absentee ballots that were improperly rejected by local election officials. What happens to them? According to Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, there are about 1,200 such votes currently in limbo. The five-member statewide canvassing board, which is charged with overseeing the recount, rejected a request by the Franken campaign to scrutinize disallowed absentee ballots at a hearing this morning. But the panel kept open the possibility of providing guidance to local election officials in re-examining such ballots to make sure that all properly cast votes are counted.

Contested ballots are another problem. So far the Coleman and Franken campaigns have challenged the decisions of local election officials on roughly 1,800 votes. Both sides have accused the other of making numerous frivolous claims at dueling press conferences throughout the last two weeks. The canvassing board today urged both parties to try to reduce the number of challenges that it will eventually be tasked with examining.

The recount is set to wrap up on December 5. But with the vote tally still razor-thin — and animosity between the two sides running high — the contest is almost certain to wind up in the courts. Which means the outcome may not be known for weeks.

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