ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota's deadlocked U.S. Senate race will edge closer to resolution today as an army of election workers begin a statewide recount of more than 2.9 million ballots. The state Canvassing Board, which will eventually declare a winner in the race between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken, signed off Tuesday on the manual recount.
The board postponed a decision on how to handle rejected absentee ballots. The recount is required under state law because the votes cast for Coleman and Franken differed by less than one-half of 1 percent. The incumbent Coleman's 215-vote lead heading into the recount translates to 0.008 percent.
Franken is pressing to include absentee ballots his campaign says were rejected on technicalities. Campaign lawyer David Lillehaug argued the board has the power to add them to the count.
"They have a right to have official mistakes corrected and their votes counted. Not later, but now," he said of voters in that situation. "This board has the full authority, and indeed we submit, the obligation to do exactly that."
Coleman's campaign contends that rejected ballots should be kept from the recount and considered only if the election result winds up in court.
"There is no precedent for what's being requested of this body by the Franken campaign and we see no reason why a different procedure should be followed at this late juncture in our history," said Fritz Knaak, Coleman's lead attorney.
Separately, the Franken campaign has sued to obtain the names of voters with invalidated absentee ballots. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday.
The recount will be done in more than 100 sites across the state over the next 2 weeks. A month from now, the canvassing board will reconvene to rule on disputed ballots and certify the election.
The five-member board is made up of the secretary of state, two Supreme Court justices and two district judges.