Franken seeks access to rejected absenteesby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Democrat Al Franken's U.S. Senate campaign wants the names of all of the people whose absentee ballots were rejected in last week's election.
St. Paul, Minn. — UPDATE: This story has since been updated with new developements. Read the updated information here.
The Franken campaign filed a lawsuit in Ramsey County today, seeking a court order requiring that county to turn over the names. Today's legal move is part of a broader Franken strategy aimed at including a review of absentee ballots in the upcoming recount.
Franken trails Republican incumbent Norm Coleman by 206 votes in unofficial results.
The Franken campaign says it has evidence some absentee ballots were wrongly rejected.
Franken's lead attorney Marc Elias gave an example today, a Beltrami County women whose absentee ballot was invalidated because of what election officials thought were signatures that did not match.
"We had one of our organizers visit a woman at a nursing home, where she lives, and she told us that her signature was indeed different than what was on file with the country," Elias said. "And that was because she had suffered a stroke."
"So despite her efforts to get a ballot on time, consider the candidates, submit that ballot on time, her ballot didn't count, because there was a mismatch in the signature that was on file with the county," Elias continued. "There are stories like this throughout Minnesota."
The Franken campaign says it has more examples of valid absentee ballots being rejected, but it did not share them.
In hopes of tracking down more information about rejected absentee ballots, the campaign filed a lawsuit in Ramsey County District Court seeking the names of everyone whose absentee ballots were rejected.
Elias said if he wins in Ramsey County, he expects every other Minnesota county would also be compelled to provide the names of those whose absentee ballots were rejected.
"This is not a lawsuit about putting ballots in the count or not in the count. This is about giving us access to the data that will allow us to determine whether or not there are lawful ballots," said Elias, "[from] honest, hard-working men and women who did everything right. They played by the rules, they went to the Secretary of State's Web site. They read how you cast an absentee ballot and they did all of those things, and yet their ballots weren't counted."
The Franken campaign says rejected absentee ballots need to be reconsidered in the recount, even though Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has said disqualified absentee ballots would not be part of the recount.
At a Wednesday news conference, Ritchie made it clear that bringing back rejected ballots can be done only through a legal challenge, called a contested election.
"The recount is done on ballots that have been accepted," Ritchie said. "There could be a contest. A citizen could go to court and say, 'My ballot wasn't included,' and ask a judge to make a ruling on that decision. But again it's not in our area, it's in the contest area."
Still the Franken campaign said it will ask the State Canvassing board to include a review of rejected absentee ballots.
If the board rejects the request, Franken -- or anyone else for that matter -- could take the matter to court.
Franken attorney Marc Elias acknowledged those legal options are available, but said they're premature to consider at this point. He expressed optimism the canvassing board will accommodate his request.
"I believe that all Minnesotans and all levels of government in Minnesota will want to do the right thing," said Elias. "There are voters like an 84-year-old stroke victim who went out and got her ballot in a nursing home, and completed that ballot and got it submitted on time. I think all Minnesotans can agree that her vote ought to be counted."
"I would ask Norm Coleman, and I'd ask you to ask Norm Coleman, whether or not he's prepared to join us in counting that 84-year-old woman's ballot," Elias continued.
Coleman campaign spokesman Mark Drake accused the Franken campaign of shamelessly trying to strong-arm local officials into counting invalid ballots. Drake said Coleman will not go along with Franken's request to join the litigation.
"Today's filing by the Franken campaign is a new low," said Drake. "I think they're trying to shove more rejected ballots in the ballot box before the recount takes place, and I think Minnesotans are going to be alarmed by this."
In filing its lawsuit, the Franken campaign has requested an expedited hearing. The State Canvassing Board is scheduled to meet on Tuesday and the recount is expected to begin next Wednesday.
- All Things Considered, 11/13/2008, 5:25 p.m.