Monday, June 1, 2009

Franken-Coleman Election In Minnesota Court’s Hands Now

June 1, 2009 – 12:27 p.m.
By Emily Cadei, CQ Staff

Lawyers for Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken made their cases before the Minnesota Supreme Court Monday morning in a pivotal phase of the legal battle over their tightly contested 2008 Senate race.

Coleman’s attorney, Joe Friedberg, reiterated the arguments made in the Republican’s appeal brief filed to the state Supreme Court last month. Coleman is challenging a trial court decision that named Franken the winner by 312 votes out of 2.9 million cast.

Friedberg claimed thousands of Minnesota absentee voters have been disenfranchised due to inconsistent standards the counties used for counting absentee ballots. That was exacerbated, he said, by court rulings made in a seven-week trial court case examining the election’s outcome, which stipulated still other standards. To remedy that problem, the Coleman team recommended counting thousands more absentee ballots that substantially complied with voting laws.

Franken’s legal team has held that Coleman’s challenges are without merit. On Monday, attorney Marc Elias argued that the irregularities in the ballot count do not amount to constitutional violations and that the Coleman campaign has not provided ample proof for any of its claims. “There are stories behind these ballots; there are reasons they were rejected,” he said.

The Supreme Court justices also raised questions about the Coleman team’s lack of evidence, asking why Friedberg was not presenting witness names or testimonies to underscore his arguments alongside the pictures of sample absentee ballots that were and were not counted.

The five Supreme Court justices — two recused themselves in the case after sitting on the canvassing board that oversaw the recount — will now begin deliberations. A ruling could come in days or weeks.

Franken declared victory after the trial court ruled in April. That reinforced the results of a hand recount that gave Franken a 225-vote lead.

Coleman, who was in court on Monday, has not ruled out appealing his case to the federal level, should the state Supreme Court reject his appeal. In a press conference following Monday’s hearing, he declined to comment one way or another on his future plans.

“Let’s see what the court does and what the opinion is,” he said. “My firm and fervent hope is to enfranchise 4,000 more Minnesotans, people who thought they had cast their votes but haven’t been counted . . . in a race that is so very, very close, the results will be impacted by those votes.”

But should Coleman decide to continue his legal challenges, he will meet intense pressure to drop out. Recent polls show that a majority of voting-age Minnesotans believe Coleman should concede the race.

Also sure to face pressure if Coleman files another appeal is Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty . Pawlenty, a Republican, is responsible for issuing an election certificate to the winner of the race, but has not said when he would do so. Such a certification is critical for either man to join the Senate, particularly since Democrats took a hard line on the lack of certification to delay the seating of Sen. Roland W. Burris , D-Ill., in January.

In his reply brief filed last month, Franken requested that the court reject Coleman’s appeal and direct Pawlenty to certify him the winner.

Emma Dumain contributed to this story.

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