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Pile of challenged ballots shrinks

ST. PAUL - Al Franken's campaign dropped 633 of its ballot challenges in Minnesota's U.S. Senate recount, an initial step toward an accurate picture of the race.

The withdrawal Wednesday of some ballot challenges the Democrat's recount observers have made was the first of what both the Franken and Norm Coleman campaigns say will be many withdrawn ballot challenges.

Challenged ballots - totaling 6,326 as of Wednesday night -- cloud the status of the recount because they are not included in the secretary of state's tally.

However, Franken's withdrawal was not immediately factored into the secretary of state's Wednesday night figures, which showed that Coleman maintains his lead over Franken. The Republican has a 315-vote lead, when recount numbers are reconciled with Nov. 4 vote totals. Coleman entered the recount edging Franken by 215 votes.

Ninety-eight percent of the 2.9 million ballots were recounted by Wednesday. Two Republican-leaning counties - Scott and Wright - are among recount sites still at work.

Marc Elias, Franken's top recount attorney, said the campaign started withdrawing challenged ballots to make work easier for the state Canvassing Board, which must review all challenges after the recount. A final tally will come after those ballots are considered.

Coleman's campaign is reviewing ballot challenges but will not withdraw any until after recounting is complete, said lead Coleman recount attorney Fritz Knaak. Doing so earlier could send a negative signal to Coleman volunteers working the recount, he said.

It could be today or later before withdrawn ballot challenges are included in the official running tally, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann said. The office must review each ballot and determine whether, in the case of Franken's withdrawn challenges, the votes are for Coleman or another candidate, he said.

"It's sort of a laborious task and we're still sort of scratching our heads trying to figure out how we're going to actually accomplish this," Gelbmann said.

Complaints about ballot discrepancies resurfaced Wednesday. The Franken campaign protested results in Minneapolis, where it said 133 votes were missing. That came after 171 previously uncounted ballots were found Tuesday in Maplewood.


Ballot challenges withdrawn by Franken were from 48 counties, including: Beltrami, Cass, Clay, Carlton, Cook, Cottonwood, Dakota, Douglas, Jackson, Kandiyohi, Lac Qui Parle, Lake, Meeker, Nobles, Otter Tail, Pine, Pipestone, Polk, St. Louis, Stevens, Wabasha, Wadena and Wilkin.