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Counties ordered to check ballots

Former Sen. Norm Coleman, right, looks on as his attorneys, Joe Friedberg, left, and Tony Trimble read a court order on Thursday in the Senate election trial. Pool photo by Jim Mone, Associated Press

ST. PAUL - Judges in the 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 votes in the Senate election tally, but the court's order did not say any of the ballots would be counted as part of the trial.

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 the trial's 24th day, the judges Thursday 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.

The court could decide whether to accept the election-night vote tally from that precinct, which Franken's campaign favors. The Democrat came out ahead in that precinct. Coleman claims those votes cannot be counted because the ballots are missing.

Also Thursday, the judges reversed an earlier decision blocking testimony from a Coleman witness. The court said that a Republican election judge from Minneapolis can testify in the trial. The woman was removed from the trial a day earlier when it was learned she had provided a document to Coleman's campaign, but not to Franken attorneys, during trial preparation.

In a separate ruling, however, the judges said Coleman's campaign cannot include some ballot information as evidence.