Elections officials describe counting errorsby Elizabeth Stawicki, Minnesota Public Radio,
Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
An Anoka County elections manager says her county found three more ballots that appear to be for Republican Norm Coleman.
She resumes testifying Friday morning in Coleman's senate election contest trial.
Coleman is trying to overturn the State Canvassing Board's decision that Democrat Al Franken received 225 more votes.
St. Paul, Minn. — Anoka County Elections Manager Rachel Smith took the stand for a second day Friday morning, as week two of Republican Norm Coleman's senate election contest comes to an end.
Coleman's attorney Joe Friedberg questioned Smith about how her county handled registration cards found inside rejected absentee ballot envelopes, including those coming from military and overseas citizens.
On Thursday, Smith testified that within the last week, her county had turned up at least three missing absentee ballots she suspects were never counted. Smith said they found in a package of brown secrecy return envelopes.
She said voters send in their absentee ballots in two envelopes: a white outside envelope, which includes a brown, inner envelope called the secrecy envelope because it holds the ballot.
Smith told Friedberg that staff went through the secrecy envelopes again in answering a recent data practices request for the Franken campaign.
"We went through, extensively, the brown secrecy [envelopes] to make sure there were no other ballots inside," Smith said.
"At that point they're supposed to be empty?" asked Friedberg.
"Yes. They should've been empty."
"And you found within them some ballots?"
"And are you fairly confident that those ballots have never been counted?"
Smith says the found ballots appear to be originals cast for Coleman. They are not part of the ballots subpoenaed for the trial because no one knew they existed.
Outside the courtroom Thursday, Norm Coleman said the immediate upshot of the testimony was that he probably had three more votes. But he said it was also an affirmation of the election contest trial itself.
"The importance of making sure every validly-cast vote is counted: it's what the voters of Minnesota want. And what we see today, I think, reinforces the importance of what we're doing here, of going through this process to ensure that that happens," Coleman said.
It's still unclear if these ballots will be added to the universe of nearly 4,800 ballots the three-judge panel said this week said it will allow Coleman to introduce into the trial for consideration. The judges said the Coleman camp may introduce include: ballots where voters complied with the state election laws and filled out their ballots correctly, but were rejected anyway; and ballots where voters wrongly completed a ballot through no fault of their own.
The court also limited Coleman to considering only those ballots raised no later than Jan 23. That was the Friday before the trial started on Jan. 26.
Franken's legal team has maintained that any errors by officials have not been widespread, and that election officials have done the best job possible, particularly in a high-turnout election.
The landscape of ballots under consideration is expected to be fluid. On Wednesday, Franken's lawyers filed court papers asking the three-judge panel to allow them to revise their counterclaims.
Smith is the latest in a series of election officials who have testified about how their individual counties handled ballots during the election and the recount.
Earlier this week, the three judges hearing the case -- Elizabeth Hayden of Stearns County, Kurt Marben of Pennington County and Denise Reilly of Hennepin County -- also heard testimony from elections officials from Pine and Washington counties.
Smith must still undergo cross-examination by Franken's attorneys.
- Morning Edition, 02/06/2009, 7:20 a.m.
Elizabeth Stawicki, JD, covers health care reform for MPR News.