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Recount's final week under way

ST. PAUL - Election officials around Minnesota this morning started the final week of the state's historic U.S. Senate recount.

Officials at many of the state's 107 recount sites have completed their part of the 2.9-million-ballot recount. Two counties begin the hand recount today; another four start Wednesday.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie set a Friday deadline for all ballots to be recounted. But Minnesotans still will not know for at least three weeks whether Republican Norm Coleman or Democrat Al Franken will be their next senator.

That is because the state Canvassing Board is scheduled to meet Dec. 16 to settle ballots that were challenged by observers for either Franken or Coleman. The campaigns challenged 4,740 ballots before today, according to the secretary of state's office.

Even when that process is complete, legal challenges could further delay the outcome.

With 86 percent of ballots recounted, Coleman was leading Franken by 292 votes before recounting resumed this morning. That lead was figured based on ballots recounted and applied to Coleman's 215-vote advantage heading into the recount.

Before the Thanksgiving holiday, the state Canvassing Board rejected a request by Franken's campaign to include improperly rejected absentee ballots in the recount. However, the board still will meet to decide how the state's roughly 12,000 rejected absentee ballots should be handled.

The board will not meet this week to decide that issue, the secretary of state's office said this morning.