In Minnesota, Coleman keeps edge as hand recount wraps up |

In Minnesota, Coleman keeps edge as hand recount wraps up

Associated Press

BUFFALO ” The statewide hand recount of ballots in Minnesota’s Senate race drew just short of conclusion Friday, but the contest between Sen. Norm Coleman and Al Franken was far from being resolved.

Officials in Minneapolis were still looking for about 130 ballots missing in one precinct, but short of that the recount wrapped up when Wright County finished just before lunchtime. The Republican incumbent held a slight edge, with a 192-vote lead over Democrat Franken.

The Associated Press arrived at the figure by comparing Nov. 4 tallies and those from the recount in all the finished precincts, which excludes the one in Minneapolis, and applying the changes to Coleman’s 215-vote lead in the initial vote count.

But that 192-vote lead doesn’t account for more than 6,600 ballot challenges from the two campaigns. It’s muddied further by legal squabbles over Franken’s push to include some rejected absentee ballots in the final count.

Both campaigns have already abandoned more than 1,200 challenges combined and vow to scrap more. A state canvassing board meets starting Dec. 16 to decide on those that remain.

Though Franken might make gains in the remaining Minneapolis precinct, it’s improbable that he would gain enough to overtake Coleman before the canvassing board begins to examine the challenged ballots.

In the meantime, board members plan to meet next Friday to decide whether to add wrongly rejected absentee ballots to the count.

Except for Minneapolis, which will resume its search for the missing ballots next week, Friday brought a close to a tedious process that began at more than 100 locations around the state more than two weeks ago.

“We’re the period at the end of this history,” said Bob Hiivala, the Wright County auditor/treasurer, after finishing his county’s work. “But the next step is the canvassing board, so maybe we’re really not the end.”

Hiivala said Wright County didn’t choose to be at the end of the line, but this week was the only time he could get the largest room in the county building.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie applauded the work of local election officials across the state, who thumbed through millions of ballots over 2 1/2 weeks.

“The hardest part ” counting nearly 3 million ballots under the glare of 1,000 klieg lights ” that’s the hardest part and it’s over,” he said.

The final hours were rocky in the state’s largest city. In addition to the approximately 130 missing Minneapolis ballots, city spokesman Matt Laible said about 10 uncounted absentee ballots from another precinct were discovered at the election warehouse. He said they would be sent unopened to the canvassing board.

Laible said the ballots were returned to the warehouse on Election Night, but had gone undiscovered because they weren’t returned using the normal process.

Workers at the city’s warehouse continued to look for the larger pile of missing ballots, more than 24 hours after city officials concluded they were missing. The secretary of state’s office instructed city workers to keep looking even past what had been a requested deadline of Friday for finishing the hand recount.

No results from that Minneapolis precinct are included in the figures posted for Hennepin County on the secretary of state’s Web site. The ballots suspected as missing make up only a small slice of ballots in a precinct that Franken carried by 495 votes.