ST. PAUL -- If Minnesota's Senate race determines which party controls the chamber, the rest of the nation better be ready to wait.
While Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Walter Mondale blitzed the state's voters Friday, elections officials were saying the state's returns will be delayed for hours as they sort through a supplemental ballot required after the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone.
"I'm thinking it might be two or three in the morning," said Donald Kuhlman, auditor in south-central Minnesota's Watonwan County.
State Democratic Party Chairman Mike Erlandson said he hopes auditors will bring in extra help on election night, but acknowledges the party's normal post-election celebration may be more of a marathon.
"We're either going to need a lot of bands, a lot of food or to make sure we have a lot of hotel rooms," he said.
The Senate now is split 49-49 among Republicans and Democrats, with one independent, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who is allied with the Democrats.
Minnesota's voting procedures have been in an upheaval since Wellstone died in a plane crash Oct. 25. It took Democrats several days to name a successor -- Mondale -- to run in his place. In the meantime, the state Supreme Court ordered local election officials to deliver new absentee ballots to people who ask to change their Senate vote.
While most county auditors still are meeting with local election judges to determine exact procedure, it's becoming clear anyone who wants to see election results as soon as they're available better plan a nap Tuesday.
A sample of county auditors interviewed Friday said they would instruct election judges to hand-count what could be more than 2 million paper supplemental ballots in the Senate race and get absentee ballots in order before they report the results of any contests.
So it's not only the Senate race that may be held up -- the tight race for governor also will have to wait until supplemental ballots are counted. Democrat Roger Moe, Republican Tim Pawlenty and Independence Party member Tim Penny are in a contest to succeed Gov. Jesse Ventura, who is not seeking a second term.
About 93,000 Minnesotans, equal to about 4.4 percent of those voting, voted absentee in 1998, the last non-presidential election year. In normal years, election workers can begin counting those absentee ballots as soon as the final batch of mail is dropped off for the day.
Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer ordered county officials not to open the envelopes until after polls close at 8 p.m. that evening to give anyone who voted absentee a chance to cast a substitute ballot.
If a voter has cast more than one absentee ballot, judges will count the one with the latest postmark on the outer envelope.
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