U.S. Senate race may seem like Groundhog Dayby Curtis Gilbert, Minnesota Public Radio
Today may be Groundhog Day, but Minnesotans following the unresolved U.S. Senate contest probably feel like they've been living in the movie "Groundhog Day" for the last three months.
Every morning Minnesotans wake up to find the Coleman-Franken battle still raging. And in all likelihood, it will be more than a month before we wake up with a new U.S. Senator.
St. Paul, Minn. — Election Day came and went, but Minnesota didn't know who its new Senator was.
Then came Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Still no Senator.
Martin Luther King Day, the Inauguration, and Norm Coleman and Al Franken battle on.
Minneapolis election lawyer Brian Rice predicts they'll fight through Valentine's and President's Day, probably all the way to St. Patrick's Day.
"The trial phase of this will go into March would be my best guess," said Rice, who has worked on 15 recounts and three election contests, but is not involved in the Senate race.
That's just the trial phase of the election contest, the part we're going through right now. Coleman and Franken's legal teams each proposed their own schedules for the trial. Coleman wanted to start later and go longer. Franken wanted it limited to just three weeks, ending February 13th.
But the court hasn't accepted either side's proposed schedule. The three judges presiding have not set end date, and Franken Lawyer Mark Elias says he has no idea how long it will last.
"A lot of that will depend on former Sen. Coleman's lawyers and how long they want to prolong this," Elias said.
Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said the trial will go "as long as it takes."
"It's worth doing, because it's important to get this right," Ginsberg told reporters.
The trial got off to a slow start last week. There was some emotional testimony from voters, but mostly it was state and county election officials on the stand. They described Minnesota's voting and recount procedures in painstaking detail.
"Judges have to rule on the admissibility of evidence. They have to determine the weight evidence is given, and it can be and likely will be in this case a very time consuming process," Rice said.
The key to Coleman's case is absentee ballots. About 11,000 of them were rejected on election night, because of problems with signatures or voter registrations. Coleman argues a large percentage of them should be counted now.
"If those need to be reviewed individually, we're talking about a substantial amount of time," William Mitchell law professor Raleigh Levine said.
Minnesota's last big statewide election contest was over the 1962 governor's race. It ended on March 21, 1963, with an upset win for Democrat Karl Rolvaag.
Rolvaag's Republican opponent Elmer Andersen could have appealed that ruling, but instead he bowed out, a decision the late governor said he never regretted.
"There's just about so much a family can stand of public life," Andersen told Minnesota Public Radio News in 2000.
Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier says it's unlikely this year's loser will be so magnanimous. Schier can't imagine either side would waive its right to an appeal.
"Both campaigns have enormous sunk costs. By that I mean they've spent so much time and money -- millions and millions -- getting to this Senate contest, that they're not going to abandon all those efforts when they think there is some chance that they could prevail on appeal," he said.
Whichever side loses, the election contest can appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and after that the case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the constitution gives the final word to the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats.
Taking all that into account, Schier says Minnesota probably won't have a new Senator until sometime this spring. Then again, predicting the end of the Coleman-Franken battle right now is a little like predicting the end of winter by looking at a groundhog's shadow.
- Morning Edition, 02/02/2009, 7:25 a.m.