(CNN) – A crucial hearing today in Minnesota could have a major impact on that state's recount of its Senate race between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken.
The state's five member Canvassing Board, which oversees the recount, is meeting to decide how to deal with thousands of absentee ballots that are not included in the recount. Franken's campaign says the ballots were wrongly rejected, and that about 6,400 ballots were wrongly disqualified. Coleman's team says the board doesn't have the authority to include the disputed ballots in the recount.
The hearing comes as the number of ballots being challenged by both camps grows. Just over 80 percent of votes cast in the state’s Senate race have been recounted, in a process that could continue into next month.
Unofficial results from the November 4 election put Coleman, a freshman Republican senator, just 215 votes ahead of Democratic challenger Al Franken, known across the country from his days on Saturday Night Live and from his years as a talk show host on progressive radio network Air America. The slim margin for Coleman, far less than one-half of one percent, triggered an automatic recount, the first time there's ever been a recount of a U.S. Senate race in Minnesota.
Election officials at 107 sites across Minnesota are in the middle of the long process of recounting all of the ballots, surrounded by election observers and lawyers from both campaigns, and the media.
The Secretary of State's office reports that 3,594 ballots have been challenged so far, with 1,836 questioned by Coleman's camp and 1,758 questioned by Franken's camp.
According to the Secretary of State's office, 80.62 percent of the more than 2.9 million votes cast in the election were recounted through yesterday. When comparing the new tallies with the results from November 4, it appears Coleman's 215 vote lead now stands at 238.
With the margin between Coleman and Franken remaining so close, the status of the ballots challenged during the recount and the disputed ballots that are not being counted could be crucial to the outcome of the recount.
Democrats have so far picked up seven Senate seats in this year's election, with the Republican seats in Minnesota and Georgia still undecided. In Georgia, freshman Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss faces off in a runoff election on December 2 against Democrat Jim Martin, a former state lawmaker.
If the Democrats take both remaining contests, they'll reach their pre-election goal of controlling 60 Senate seats, a filibuster-proof majority. A filibuster is a move by the minority party in the Senate that basically brings the chamber to a standstill by blocking votes on legislation.