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It’s now going to a three-judge panel, folks!

The Election Contest Court has ruled that the remaining contested absentee ballots will be counted on April 7, starting at 9:30 am Central Time.  Whoever is ahead at the end of the count will be declared the winner of the 2008 election for what used to be Norm Coleman’s (and Paul Wellstone’s) Senate seat.  Norm will of course appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court (and will take his sweet time doing so — he has ten days to make his appeal), but it’s getting closer to the end here. Once the Minnesota Soops deep-six Norm, that’s it.

But this was all expected.  What will be truly interesting will be if Harry Reid keeps his word and tries to seat Al Franken tomorrow, or if he’ll wait until after the last of the absentee ballots are counted next week.  If he does, he’ll have to use the nuclear option to do it — but as Kathleen Sebelius has already stated, the N.O. is on the table anyway in order to get Obama’s budget passed.

If you’re wondering how the ruling went for Norm:  Not good.  Here’s a taste:

[Coleman’s] counsel argued that the Court should presume a voter is registered without evidence to the contrary, that a witness with a Minnesota address is properly registered, that a voter with an absentee ballot completed an absentee ballot application, and that the voter’s signature is genuine. However, when the counties or a party places an absentee ballot in issue and that ballot has been carefully reviewed but continues to lack legall sufficiency, the Court can make no such presumptions.  Further, [Coleman’s] presumptions are not reasonable in light of the small number of absentee ballots at issue in this election contest and the fact that these absentee ballots have already been carefully reviewed as many as three times by state and local election officials.

Bada-boom, bada-bing.  Franken attorney Marc Elias is at this moment (4:44 pm CDT) having a press conference at The UpTake. He sounds very happy indeed.

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