Minnesota's drawn-out Senate saga is about take another step toward conclusion.
Lawyers for Democrat Al Franken plan to call their final witnesses Wednesday and then provisionally rest their case. But that doesn't mean the seven-week trial is quite done.
A lawyer representing individual voters who are trying to get their rejected absentee ballots counted has the right to present evidence. And Republican Norm Coleman, who brought the election challenge, can put on witnesses to rebut Franken's case.
"We're not there yet because there are still those steps left," said Franken lawyer Marc Elias. "But we're ending what has been a very long postelection process."
Coleman lawyer Ben Ginsberg said the Coleman rebuttal case won't be "terribly lengthy." So barring unforeseen delays, the three judges could be deliberating by next week.
Franken led Coleman by 225 votes after a statewide recount. The Democrat's lawyers called 73 witnesses over the last week, mostly voters whose ballots were denied. Elias wouldn't estimate how many new votes he believes they have proven.
Coleman's team spent more than five weeks putting on a case aimed at proving thousands of absentee ballots were wrongly rejected and hundreds of votes improperly went to Franken due to vote-counting irregularities. Ginsberg said Coleman's attorneys have proven between 1,000 and 1,725 rejected ballots should now count, which is far fewer than the pool of votes they pursued when the trial began.
Once the judges determine which candidate got the most legal votes, the loser has the right to appeal to higher courts or the U.S. Senate.
As the undecided Senate race drags on, Coleman has asked federal authorities to investigate whether financial data related to donors has been breached.
Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan sent an e-mail to supporters Wednesday in response to cryptic warnings many got the night before informing them of a possible data leak. Sheehan's message tells the donors there is a "strong likelihood" that privacy was compromised.
E-mails that prompted Sheehan's message suggested donor credit card information was on the Internet as Coleman has continued to raise money.
In the ballot battle in court, one question that has come up repeatedly in recent days is absentee ballots in which a voter's signature appeared different from the one on their ballot application. Both sides have tried to convince the panel to reconsider ballots that were rejected because of apparent signature mismatches.
Coleman's lawyers have given the judges 168 such ballots to examine, and have more than 300 more they'd like to introduce. Franken's lawyers so far haven't said how many on those grounds they are trying to convert into votes.
The signature requirement is designed to guard against voter fraud by making sure the person casting the ballot is the one who requested it. Election officials compare a voter's signature on the envelope that contains the completed ballot to the signature on the ballot application.
It's one of the most discretionary aspects of Minnesota's election system.