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UPDATE: Mark Ritchie: Day 10 held hostage in Franken-Coleman recount saga

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie budged Friday on whether rejected absentee ballots will be considered by the State Canvassing Board come Tuesday — and next month, when that decisive body determines the winner of the Al Franken-Norm Coleman U.S. Senate race.

Ritchie budged enough that the Coleman campaign issued a heated statement Friday night expressing concern about the secretary of state saying that the Canvassing Board will, in fact, listen to the Franken campaign’s assertion that some previously rejected ballots should be counted.

Earlier this week, Ritchie said rejected absentee ballots would only be considered if, and when, this recount gets into the courts next month, but not by the Canvassing Board.

The Coleman campaign also objected to a statement made at Ritchie’s afternoon new conference by state Elections Director Gary Poser that the names and addresses of rejected absentee ballot voters are public information.

This is a position held by Franken’s lawyers and the basis of Franken’s lawsuit filed Thursday in Ramsey County court.

Ritchie denied his position had “evolved.”

“We didn’t know the Franken campaign would bring this to the State Canvassing Board,” Ritchie said of the five-person group – of which he is a member – that will meet Tuesday to officially approve a recount and then again on Dec. 16 to determine the recount results.

“I’m not going to stand up here and say we’re not listening to the public, we’re not listening to the candidates, we’re not listening to the press, we are close-minded,” he said. “If somebody brings an issue at a hearing of the whole State Canvassing Board, we will stay until those decisions are made.”

This angered the Coleman campaign.

In a letter to Ritchie, Coleman campaign attorney Fritz Knaak wrote late Friday: “We find it troubling that members of your office charged with running the recount are taking legal positions in public as to pending litigation, especially since the revised legal positions are identical to the positions of the Al Franken campaign and at odds with written legal advice from both the Ramsey and Hennepin County Attorneys.”

Meanwhile . . . Ritchie also lashed out at bad information and its proliferation.

The bad info: At a news conference this afternoon, Ritchie specifically mentioned the allegations – first shot down by MinnPost’s David Brauer – that some Minneapolis ballots were lost in an election official’s car.

Then, there is the second allegation – now discredited – from the Al Franken campaign that an absentee ballot in Beltrami County was rejected.

“I’m very unhappy when local election officials are smeared,’’ Ritchie said in a news conference this afternoon. And he went on to say when such allegations get regurgitated in the news media the world learns about Minnesota.

“It does reflect negatively on our tradition, our culture, our history, our heritage,” he said.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty mentioned the alleged Minneapolis ballots on national television after the MinnPost report. Ritchie said he sent a note to the governor – contents undisclosed – but also praised Pawlenty for adding on Fox News that Minnesota’s electoral process is impeccable.

Furthermore . . .

The Franken campaign issued a statement Friday after Ritchie’s news conference and after a conference call with Ritchie and representatives of both campaigns.

From Franken spokesman Andy Barr, it said: “We are confident that the Secretary of State will issue rules that provide for a fair and smooth recount. We do, however, have concerns that the Coleman campaign continues to oppose measures that we believe will avert the disenfranchisement of Minnesota voters. We will continue to fight for the rights of Minnesotans to have their voices heard.
“We look forward to the issuing of the Secretary of State’s procedures, and will have further comment at that time. Meanwhile, our overall position remains the same: Minnesotans who cast votes should not lose the right to have those votes counted fairly.”

That, too, angered the Coleman campaign.

A Coleman campaign news release called Franken’s release “dishonest,” and Knaak wrote to Ritchie that the Franken release “violated the cooperative spirit” of the conference call.

The Canvassing Board meets Tuesday.

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