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Judges set ballot limit in recount case

ST. PAUL - A judicial panel could review at least 5,000 uncounted absentee ballots for counting in the U.S. Senate election trial.

Judges ruled Tuesday Norm Coleman can argue to include in the election tally absentee ballots it believes were wrongly rejected in the Nov. 4 election.

The ruling, which came on the trial's seventh day, means county election officials may have work to do in the coming days or weeks and that the trial could last several weeks or longer.

The ruling also said Coleman can submit absentee ballots it believes were completed improperly by voters because of election administrators' errors.

As the trial got under way, Coleman said all of Minnesota's 11,000 rejected absentee ballots should be part of the proceeding in order to create a level playing field, but it believes only 4,500 to 5,500 of those may have been wrongly discarded, attorney Ben Ginsberg said.

The ruling suggests counties around the state will have to send to the courts the sealed envelopes containing those ballots that will be reviewed. It also is possible voters and county officials will be called to testify about specific ballots.

Kevin Corbid, who oversees elections in Washington County, said he and another election official did not consider whether an absentee ballot mistake was committed by the voter or an election administrator.

Corbid, who spent much of Tuesday on the witness stand, said election officials in his county used information available to them at the time to decide whether to accept or reject absentee ballots. Still, he said there remain some ballots that should be counted.

The court order Tuesday offered some indication of the scope of the election trial, but campaign attorneys would not speculate how long the trial will last.

Additional absentee ballots could still be included for review in the trial.

Franken's campaign wants the court to consider counting 771 absentee ballots it says were wrongly rejected in the election. Some of those ballots may be included in the pile outlined by the court Tuesday, but others may not, so more than 5,000 ballots could be considered during the trial.