The Minnesota election court ruled on Tuesday that nearly 4,800 rejected absentee ballots should be reexamined in the process of determining the winner of the state's still contested senate election.
The ruling seemed to be a partial blow to Democratic challenger Al Franken, who ended the first official stage of the recount process up by a scant 225 votes. But aides close to Franken say they are neither surprised nor concerned by the court's order.
"We feel good," said an aide. "It is sort of the Minnesota way to count all these ballots, so we are not incredibly shocked."
While Franken had asked the judges to limit any review of rejected absentee ballots to 650 -- the number cited by Coleman when the two candidates litigated the issue last month -- Coleman had been trying to get the state to reconsider 11,000 such ballots. The court essentially split the difference.
Moreover, the court's order doesn't actually mean that the 4,800 ballots will now be thrown back into the official pool. Rather, it is an instruction for election officials to merely go over the ballots (not open them) to determine whether they were wrongfully rejected.
"The court order is to not count these but to look at them," said the aide. "They will look at them all over again and will likely reject them again."
And even if portions of the ballots are not rejected, that doesn't mean that they will necessarily benefit Coleman. When the recount officials were going through the rejected absentee ballots a month ago, the numbers dramatically benefited Franken. There is nothing to assume that additional ballots from this pool wouldn't do the same.
"The rejected absentee ballots are so skewed towards us I just think that it won't be enough to make up that margin," said the aide.
Once the issue over the rejected absentee ballots is resolved, it doesn't mean an end to Coleman's legal challenges. The former Senator is still contesting the possibility of duplicate ballots and a sampling of ballots counted in Minneapolis after they had gone missing, among other issues.
UPDATE: The same three-judge panel issued a separate ruling Tuesday night that the Franken campaign is interpreting as a legal victory. Of the roughly 4,800 ballots reintroduced to the recount universe, the Coleman legal team will have to argue for the inclusion of each one individually. In other words, they won't be able to set standards for a ballot's to be reconsidered.
The ruling will serve to make it much harder for the former Senator to get larger swaths of votes counted. It also should extend the election even further.
"What the summary judgment said tonight is we are not going to extrapolate out and just count all these ballot," said Franken lawyer Marc Elias.