Norm Coleman’s already grim prospects for prevailing in the ongoing U.S. Senate contest were dealt another significant blow this afternoon. The three-judge panel hearing the case ruled that only 400 rejected absentee ballots should be considered for inclusion in the final vote tally. The contested ballots will be delivered to the Minnesota Judicial Center for examination by the judges at a hearing next Tuesday.
This doesn’t mean that all 400 ballots will ultimately be added to the vote tally. But even if every single one of these ballots were to be deemed valid, the math is ugly for the Coleman camp. To close Democrat Al Franken’s current 225-vote lead, the former Republican senator would need to outpoll him by a 313-to-87 vote margin. But even that scenario isn’t realistic, considering that Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley garnered 15 percent of the vote and likely pulled some votes from the pile of 400 rejected absentee ballots.
“The math is the math,” said Marc Elias, Franken’s lead recount attorney, on a conference call with reporters this afternoon. “Obviously the math is going to be very difficult for former Sen. Coleman and his legal team at this point.”
Coleman’s legal team criticized the order for disenfranchising voters and promised to continue the legal battle. “As a result, this leaves us no choice but to appeal any final decision that includes these errors to the Minnesota State Supreme Court,” Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg told Minnesota Public Radio.
At the start of the legal contest, Coleman’s legal team gauged the universe of wrongly rejected absentee ballots at nearly 5,000 — easily the largest potential pool of additional ballots in the election contest. But by the close of the seven-week trial that number had been whittled down to 1,360. Franken’s lawyers, by contrast, argued that just 430 rejected absentee ballots should be opened and included in the final tally.
Today’s order makes clear the daunting legal logistics faced by the three judges — Kurt Marben, Elizabeth Hayden and Denise Reilly — over the last two months. The court reviewed more than 19,000 pages of legal pleadings, 1,717 individual exhibits, and testimony from 142 witnesses. “The trial evidence comprised exhibits compiled in three-ring binders that, when stacked, equaled over 21 feet of paper copies,” the order observes.
Tuesday’s examination of the 400 ballots should clear the way for a final ruling by the three-judge panel. But barring an unlikely change of heart from the Coleman camp (and his enablers in Washington), the legal battle will continue. Next stop: the Minnesota Supreme Court.