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Senate trial explores absentee ballots

Attorney Joe Friedberg shows Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann an absentee ballot document on Wednesday, the third day of the U.S. Senate election trial. Gelbmann, a Woodbury resident, testified about how absentee ballots were handled during the Senate recount. Friedberg is an attorney for Norm Coleman, pictured at right. (Pool photo by Richard Sennott, Star Tribune.)

ST. PAUL - Norm Coleman's attorneys bore into the details of individual absentee ballots on the third day of the U.S. Senate election trial.

Coleman's legal team is trying to demonstrate that counties applied different standards when considering which absentee ballots would be counted in the election and statewide recount and which needed to be rejected because certain criteria were not met.

Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg questioned Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann at length about why some absentee ballots were not counted.

David Lillehaug, an attorney for Al Franken, began cross-examining Gelbmann late this morning.

Much of Friedberg's questioning dealt with a list Gelbmann compiled of absentee ballots that local election officials rejected even though, upon his review, it appeared there was "little doubt" they should have been opened and counted. He made the list during the recount.

One of those ballots belonged to a Park Rapids voter identified in the trial with the initials "T.J.Q." Precinct election officials did not open and count the ballot on Election Day because they did not find the voter's name in the voter roster, Gelbmann said. However, Hubbard County officials later said the ballot was mistakenly rejected because of confusion over the voter's hyphenated last name.

"In my mind, there was little doubt that ballot was wrongfully rejected," Gelbmann said.

But that vote and other absentee ballots still have not been counted, Coleman's team is arguing. It blames a lack of uniform standard used by election officials around the state and says the three-judge panel should consider counting thousands more rejected absentee ballots during the trial.

"If it happened in another county the situation might very well have been different?" Friedberg asked Gelbmann at one point, referring to how a specific ballot was handled.

That's correct, Gelbmann responded.

Also this morning, the three judges hearing the case rejected a Coleman request to have the campaigns' pre-trial statements and positions on rejected absentee ballots excluded from the trial.

Franken attorneys routinely have claimed that the Coleman campaign's position on rejected absentee ballots shifted dramatically during and after the recount when it appeared the Republican needed to pick up additional votes.

Coleman led Franken after the Nov. 4 election, but the recount showed Franken received 225 more votes. Coleman sued to challenge that result.