The Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken will reach its natural conclusion today with the opening of as many as 2,000 absentee ballots mistakenly rejected on Election Night … or not.  Franken currently leads by 48 votes after the manual recount, but both sides have already promised to contest the results in court if their opponent prevails.  In this case, neither side agrees on how many ballot envelopes to open:

To count or not to count — that’s the question in the U.S. Senate recount, as the state Supreme Court ponders whether to let the final stage of ballot tallying proceed or to redesign the process once more.

As state officials prepare to count 953 disputed absentee ballots Saturday, the court is expected to decide soon whether to instead open the door to a new centralized review of about 2,000 such ballots, as requested by Sen. Norm Coleman — or at least order the review of hundreds of additional ballots identified by the Coleman and Al Franken campaigns.

If the court refuses the Coleman request, an attorney for the GOP senator said Friday, he would likely lose the recount and immediately move to legally contest the state Canvassing Board’s certification of final results.

With the gap now down to such a small number, 953 absentee ballots could easily change the direction of the contest.  It would only take a slight deviation to put Coleman ahead or to extend Franken’s lead.  Of course, the more ballots reviewed, the better Coleman’s chances get, which is why Coleman wants the Supreme Court to order a centralized review; he thinks that it will produce a larger pool from which to gain votes.  And of course, that’s why Franken doesn’t want Coleman’s effort to succeed.

In any event, this won’t be the last word.  No matter who wins, the loser will go to court to stop the process and restart it.  Until the absentee ballots get counted, though, we won’t know which role Franken or Coleman will take.