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OUR VIEW: Get Senate recount right, no matter how long it takes

Should an absentee ballot be opened and counted if, on the outside of the envelope, the voter and the voter's witness scribbled in different dates after their names?...

Should an absentee ballot be opened and counted if, on the outside of the envelope, the voter and the voter's witness scribbled in different dates after their names?

Mary Bell of Duluth thinks so. As she explained to the News Tribune for a story this week, her witness in November's election -- her husband -- made an honest mistake. Her votes should have been counted, she insisted.

But on election night, a polling place judge disagreed. Noting the conflicting dates, the judge set aside as rejected the envelope holding Bell's ballot.

Now it's among thousands being contested and bandied about in a recount of the U.S. Senate race pitting Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken.

The Solomon-like wisdom required to determine the legitimacy -- and legality -- of some contested and rejected ballots helps to explain why the race still doesn't have a winner 59 days after the election and why it almost certainly will remain undecided Tuesday when a new congressional session begins.

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Laws should clearly dictate when votes are legally cast. The ongoing ballot debates between the Franken and Coleman camps and between the Republican and Democratic parties suggest existing laws aren't as clear as they need to be. The closest race in U.S. Senate history -- two one-thousandths of a percentage point separates the candidates -- and its lingering, sometimes-bitter recount demand election laws be strengthened and made more clear.

That can't happen in time to settle Coleman-Franken -- we hope. But the real winner is the one to send to Washington to represent Minnesota -- no matter how long it takes to determine.

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