MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (CNN) – Republican Norm Coleman was dealt a major legal blow Friday evening as the three judge panel overseeing the post-election trial issued an order that significantly limits which rejected absentee ballots may be reconsidered in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race election.
Counting improperly rejected absentee ballots to prevent what they say was voter disenfranchisement has been a pivotal theme of Coleman's case.
In their order, the judges said they are "confident that...there is no systemic problem of disenfranchisement in the state's election system, including in its absentee balloting procedures."
They also stressed that merely proving a ballot was rejected wrongfully — the issue much of the testimony thus far has been devoted to - is not sufficient grounds to request that it be opened and counted. That voter, they said, may have cast a ballot in person on Election Day, or submitted a subsequent absentee ballot that was counted.
They wrote that each side must prove that the ballots they want counted were "legally cast" and that cannot be done simply showing a ballot was wrongfully rejected.
The judges also outlined ten categories of absentee ballots that will not be considered in the trial because, as they write, the ballots in these categories "are not legally cast under relevant law."
Categories that will not be considered include absentee ballots submitted by non-registered voters, absentee ballots inside a return envelope not signed by the voter or absentee ballot applications that were not signed, and absentee ballots that were dropped off in person on election day.
Coleman is challenging the results of the state recount that put Democrat Al Franken in the lead with 225 votes.
Franken attorney Marc Elias called this an "important next step in the process" and said he was "obviously very pleased with the court's decision."
Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak said there are still a significant number of voters with rejected absentee ballots whose votes can still be considered.
"We're very pleased. Our definition of victory is that 3,500 Minnesotans whose votes we are trying to get counted will have the opportunity to have their votes counted," he said Friday. Team Coleman had previously requested that 4,800 of these ballots be ruled eligible to be reconsidered.
Trial will resume Monday at 1 pm CT.