Coleman's campaign calls first witnesses in recount trialby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
The recount trial is underway in a St. Paul courtroom to determine the winner of Minnesota's U.S. Senate election. A three-judge panel is presiding over the trial, which is expected to last several weeks.
A statewide recount showed DFLer Al Franken ahead of Republican Norm Coleman by 225 votes. Coleman is challenging the results, claiming the State Canvassing Board made several errors in the recount.
The Coleman campaign attempted to introduce into evidence copies of envelopes that had contained absentee ballots. The Franken campaign objected, saying that in some cases, the Coleman campaign had either written on the copies or removed information from the copies.
The three-judge panel agreed with Franken's objection, leaving the Coleman campaign to announce that it would subpoena county officials around the state to provide the original envelopes.
Court adjourned at approximately 4:30 p.m., and resumes tomorrow at 9 a.m.
Coleman's attorneys have begun calling witnesses to the stand. The first witness was Christine Fuzer, 27, who works for the Coleman campaign. The second was Gloria Sonnen, who works at the St. Paul law firm of Dorsey & Whitney.
Coleman's team is now trying to submit new ballot envelopes as evidence, but Franken's attorney Marc Elias says he wasn't privy to this evidence before the beginning of today's trial.
The three-judge panel has not yet determined whether to admit these ballots as evidence.
Seattle attorney Kevin Hamilton is now making his opening statement on behalf of Al Franken.
Addressing the issue of rejected absentee ballots, Hamilton said: "Evidence will show that the vast majority of these ballots were rejected because they should have been."
It "will show that certainly there were some mistakes in this election," but not enough to overturn the outcome of the State Canvassing Board, Hamilton said.
Franken's attorneys also include former Minneapolis U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug, Seattle attorney David Burman, who worked on Washington state's gubernatorial recount in 2004; and Marc Elias, who was general counsel for the Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign.
Hamilton said Coleman's attorneys are "cherry-picking," and looking for ways to eliminate votes from predominantly Franken areas, while expanding the votes in his favor from other areas.
"This claim, simply put, cannot sustain serious scrutiny," Hamilton said.
Coleman is behind Franken by 225 votes.
Rejected absentee ballots are at the heart of the case, said Minneapolis criminal defense attorney Joe Friedberg in his opening statements on behalf of former Senator Norm Coleman.
Friedberg is asking the three-judge panel to review 5,000 ballots -- the ones Coleman's attorneys are saying were wrongly-rejected.
"We don't have a clue who these people voted for. These unopened absentee ballots are still with election judges," Friedberg said.
"Nobody, Mr. Franken's side, Norm Coleman's side, we don't know what's in there," Friedberg said. "For all I know I'm trying to get you to count ballots that favor Mr. Franken."
Friedberg added: "This is going to be extremely tedious and extremely boring… but it's got to go ballot by ballot. I don't know any other way to do it."
Attorney Kevin Hamilton will soon begin his opening statements on behalf on Al Franken.
Coleman appeared in court Monday afternoon. His legal bullpen also includes Ben Ginsberg, one of former President George W. Bush's attorneys in the 2000 recount; former state Senator and assistant majority leader Fritz Knaak; and Tony Trimble, who represented Mark Kennedy in the congressional recount of 2000.
Just how many ballots the panel will reconsider is still up to the three judges. Coleman's attorneys would like to expand the list to 12,000.
Coleman is specifically challenging whether the recount properly included and counted legally cast votes in three major categories.
They have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence -- that is, that it's more likely than not -- that: officials wrongly rejected absentee ballots; that they double-counted other ballots; and third, that 133 missing ballots from Minneapolis should not be counted.
"We are litigating the issue of whether or not the original ballots should have been, and should now be counted," Friedberg said in his opening statement.
Al Franken has not appeared in court this afternoon.
- All Things Considered, 01/26/2009, 5:20 p.m.