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Franken, Coleman spar over ballot challenges

Frivolous: (adjective).

1 a: of little weight or importance. b: having no sound basis (as in fact or law) "a frivolous lawsuit"

2 a: lacking in seriousness. b: marked by unbecoming levity

-- Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's U.S. Senate recount turned frivolous Friday.

Each campaign accused the other of engaging in frivolous challenges, actions campaigns can use to claim that a voter's candidate pick on a ballot is not clear.

On Friday night, the secretary of state's office reported 747 ballots challenged by Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman's campaign and 778 by Democrat Al Franken supporters in the first three days of the statewide recount, which involves officials individually examining each of the 2.9 million ballots cast.

When Coleman's 215-vote pre-recount lead is adjusted with numbers from the first three days of the recount, that lead shrunk to 115 with 61 percent of the ballots recounted.

The secretary of state's unofficial raw tally of only the recounted precincts showed Coleman ahead by 28,520, with many Democratic areas yet to count. The final difference is expected to be within hundreds, at most.

The large number of challenged ballots is important, for one thing, because it prevents Minnesotans from knowing just how the recount is going because challenged ballots are not counted until the state Canvassing Board meets starting Dec. 16. The board must look at each challenged ballot to determine who the voter picked for Senate, essentially deciding the race's winner because it appears there will be far more challenged ballots than the difference between the two candidates.

Both campaigns said Friday they will take a new look at challenges made by their volunteers and remove some.

While the recount proceeded faster than expected -- Secretary of State Mark Ritchie predicted 75 percent of ballots would be done by tonight -- discussion about frivolous challenges dominated Friday.

Franken recount attorney Marc Elias waved copies of 10 southeastern Minnesota ballots, citing them as examples of frivolous Coleman challenges.

Most of the ballots showed the voter marked the oval next to Republican John McCain's name in the presidential race, and then picked Democrat Franken in the Senate contest.

Coleman recount observers apparently challenged the ballots because they thought a voter would not pick both McCain and Franken.

But Elias said that in his view each of the ballots was "a textbook example of how to fill out an optical scan ballot."

Davis works for Forum Communications Co,. which owns the Daily Globe.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.