[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/12/19/art.mnballot1219.gi.jpg caption="Franken holds a narrow edge over Norm Coleman as counting continues."]ST. PAUL, Minnesota (CNN) - Democrat Al Franken maintained his slim lead of 50 votes Tuesday as Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and the state canvassing board allocated the remainder of what was approximately 6,000 ballots that had - at one point or another - been challenged by both campaigns.
"If there are any nits to be picked, they've been picked," said board member and Minnesota State Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson as the board adjourned.
In a statement, Franken himself said, "As it appears that we're on track to win, I want Minnesotans to know that I'm ready to get to work for them in Washington on day one."
Coleman campaign attorney Tony Trimble called Franken's double digit lead "artificial" and maintained there is still a long way to go in the counting process, specifically because a large number of improperly rejected absentee ballots have yet to be tallied.
But the process is far from over. The battle over which absentee ballots should be included in the mix has the makings of a brutal fight.
As outlined by the State Supreme Court, both campaigns and local election officials must agree on the ballots that were improperly rejected before the canvassing board can open and count them. Ballots that are rejected improperly are typically done so due to a clerical error or something similar.
Local elections officials have come up with a list of about 1,350 ballots that they say were accidentally rejected. Franken campaign representatives have said all of those should be counted.
Coleman reps say only about half of those should be considered but they've also identified about 600 more ballots that they say were not tagged by local officials but that were also rejected in error. Coleman's Tony Trimble admitted many of these 600 are from Coleman heavy areas but maintained that was just "coincidence."
Based on the court's ruling, the campaigns must agree before anything can be counted or, according to their decision, sanctions would be leavened. Exactly what those sanctions may be remains to be seen. The deadline to hand those envelopes over to the board is this Friday, but there is some doubt over whether that will happen or not.
Ritchie said he hopes a result can be certified in a "timely" fashion. If his estimation holds accurate over the course of the week, a result could be certified as early as Monday evening, however, the board has also reserved time on Tuesday, January 6 to review the rejected ballots, as well. Incidentally, January 6 is the day the new Congress is set to be sworn in.
Another issue the Coleman campaign is focusing on is whether or not approximately 150 ballots were accidentally double counted. Trimble has maintained for weeks now that wrongly-handled duplicate ballots exist. The canvassing board decided it was not an issue that they as a body should consider. The State Supreme Court heard the Coleman arguments and did not grant them relief. The option is still on the table for further legal action.