More witnesses scheduled at Minnesota Senate election trial
It is the election that never seems to end. Voters in Minnesota were no closer Wednesday to knowing whether their second U.S. senator will be Democrat Al Franken or Republican Norm Coleman, even as the latest installment, a trial in St. Paul challenging the Nov. 4 election, comes to a close.
Los Angeles Times
It is the election that never seems to end.
Voters in Minnesota were no closer Wednesday to knowing whether their second U.S. senator will be Democrat Al Franken or Republican Norm Coleman, even as the latest installment, a trial in St. Paul challenging the Nov. 4 election, comes to a close.
It's been a bitter battle to figure out whether Franken's narrow lead — 225 ballots over incumbent Coleman, out of 2.9 million cast — is the actual, final result of the senatorial race.
"We have been through a canvass, a hand recounting, a state canvassing-board hearing, a seven-week trial and several trips to the state Supreme Court," said Franken attorney Marc Elias. "When I landed in Minneapolis on November 7th, I never imagined it would last this long."
Even Mother Nature is dragging things out: Heavy snow storms prevented at least one witness from reaching the courtroom this week, prompting the Franken legal team to say they would rest their case today — but only provisionally: They could still submit exhibits to the court.
Attorneys for Coleman, who brought the election challenge, are preparing lists of rebuttal witnesses. And a lawyer representing voters that want their rejected absentee ballots to be counted also may appear.
The public is understandably weary. Some Minnesotans simply want the matter settled. They're concerned that their state could lose out on federal-aid measures with only one seated senator.
"This is a very important time to have everybody there, with the way the economy is," said Jared Reise of suburban Eagan, Minn. "It's a little long-winded, this whole recount."
Both national parties have a stake in the fight over the country's only undecided Senate seat. If Franken wins, Democrats will have a 59-seat majority — one vote short of filibuster-proof control in the Senate — at a time when the White House is pushing through its budget and other legislative agendas. Republicans want to keep them from getting it.
"For the Republicans, if they can't get Coleman into office, then keeping that office vacant is just as good," said David Schultz, an election-law professor at Hamline University in St. Paul. "As long as the Democrats don't have that 59th vote, and the longer they have to swing two GOP votes instead of one, it works to (Republicans') advantage."
The day following Election Day, Coleman was 725 votes ahead. As late returns came in and election night tallies were revised, that lead shrank. But going into the recount, where election officials across the state went through the painstakingly slow process of hand-counting ballots, Coleman was still in the lead by more than 200 votes.
When Minnesota's canvassing board certified Franken as the winner in January based on the recount, Coleman filed a lawsuit claiming that Minnesota's flawed election system lost him the Senate seat.
The key to Coleman's case was the nearly 4,800 absentee ballots that, according to his lawyers, were improperly rejected by election officials. An order by the judicial panel limited the categories of absentee ballots it would consider, which in turn narrowed the number of ballots that might be counted to between 1,000 and 1,725, according to Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg.
Franken, too, is pushing to have additional absentee ballots counted.
Since Jan. 26, the trial has dug into quirky penmanship, oddball nuances of registration law and examined how different counties handled absentee ballots. The candidates have subpoenaed dozens of election officials, some of whom have been grilled on how closely a voter's signature on an absentee ballot needed to mirror their signature on their application to be considered a match.
Both sides are expected to give their final arguments next week, after which the judicial panel — a trio of state district-court judges appointed by Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page — will begin deliberations.
Coleman, whose term ended Jan. 3, has proposed holding a new election, which he says would help the public regain their faith in the state's electoral process.
But political law experts say that would require a new law, and a second election would be costly for a state facing $4.5 billion budget deficit.
Now, Franken and Coleman staff say they are prepared for the worst — and, if necessary, to keep battling.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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