Minnesota judges review results of vote count. The results of the counting of another 400 absentee ballots were more good news for Al Franken. (Photo: Jim Gehrz / AP)
Democrat Al Franken's lead in Minnesota's long-disputed Senate race increased to 312 votes Tuesday, making it mathematically impossible for Norm Coleman to win his state trial challenging the election outcome.
A three-judge panel appointed by the state Supreme Court is expected to rule this week that Franken won the race.
Franken's slim advantage expanded after election officials, acting under court order, opened and counted 351 previously rejected absentee ballots.
At the end of a six-week hand recount, Franken had led Coleman by 225 votes out of 2.9 million cast. The additional ballots were ordered evaluated for validity as part of Coleman's challenge in state court to the outcome of the recount.
The court still has to resolve whether some ballots were double-counted, as alleged by Coleman, and the handling of ballots that went missing.
But those questions affect fewer than 300 ballots - too few to wipe out Franken's lead, even if the judges rule in Coleman's favor.
Franken attorney Marc Elias declared Tuesday's count showed "Al Franken got the most votes" in the election.
Coleman's attorneys have already rejected the parameters for the latest count - saying the court's decision to review fewer than 400 ballots last week would disenfranchise thousands of Minnesota voters.
"We are saddened and disappointed it was only 351" ballots that were counted, said Coleman spokesman and attorney Ben Ginsberg. "It should have been about 10 times more than that."
Coleman's legal team initially argued in court that as many as 5,000 absentee ballots were wrongly rejected, but that number was whittled down during the trial to 1,300.
Ginsberg said the campaign will appeal the final ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court, "unless of course [the judges] see the light," and reverse their stance. The campaign has 10 days from the date of the ruling to file an appeal.
If the Coleman campaign is not successful in state Supreme Court, it has not ruled out further appeals to federal courts or the U.S. Supreme Court, although it is unclear whether a federal court would hear the case.
Asked whether Coleman was influenced by national Republican leaders to "drag out" the case - as some national Democrats have claimed - Ginsberg said Coleman "has received much support and advice and good cheer from members of the Republican party, but it is Sen. Coleman's decision."
For his part, Elias expressed hope that, "By the time Senator Coleman sits down in his home and has to make a decision," he recognizes that "there will have been no fewer than seven judges who have looked at this and at each stage he has lost votes."