POLITICS
01/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Coleman Denies Ballots Are Missing: Contradicted By State

Sen. Norm Coleman denies that any ballots are missing in the recount of his race against Democrat Al Franken:

Coleman lawyer Fritz Knaak reacted strongly in a written statement, noting: "We do not know that there are any ballots missing, and it is premature and simply irresponsible to suggest that they are. As a matter of course, we expect that our campaign will be consulted fully on this matter, as apparently the Franken campaign and the Mayor of Minneapolis have been by election officials, including the Secretary of State's Office. It is critical that there be no effort to make this matter a partisan issue."

But he's contradicted by state elections officials, who are quite clear about the situation. An envelope containing 133 ballots has disappeared.

Like cops issuing an AMBER alert, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, city Elections Director Cindy Reichert and Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann called a news conference Thursday to announce they were on the hunt for the envelope, which Reichert described as "missing."

During the recount, 1,896 ballots appeared -- 133 fewer than on Election Day. On Wednesday, Reichert initially attributed the discrepancy to election workers feeding some ballots through machines twice. But after checking the roster and realizing there should be close to 2,029 ballots, she retracted that theory. On Thursday she said, "We have no explanation." She said foul play was "highly unlikely," but "we're not ruling anything out."

To trace the trail of the envelope, Reichert said investigators interviewed the chief election judge at the polling place, a man she described as "very experienced."

At 12:15 a.m., after all the ballots had been fed through vote-counting machines, he and an assistant election judge drove sealed envelopes containing ballots directly to the warehouse, a short distance away, Reichert said. His precise memory of what transpired was "a little fuzzy," but she said the election judge recalled a standard double-check with the worker who accepted the ballots at the warehouse.

That double-check holds the key to believing a single envelope is missing, Reichert said.

Currently, five ballot envelopes are accounted for. One is a different color and contains write-ins. The other four are labeled "2 of 5," 3 of 5," "4 of 5" and "5 of 5."

There is no "1 of 5."

"At this point, we believe it's missing," she said. She suspects it is "in some odd place in our warehouse."

Franken's campaign says that with the missing ballots, they lead Coleman. Without them, they fall behind the Senator.