Recount judges order count of 23 rejected ballotsby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio,
Elizabeth Stawicki, Minnesota Public Radio
The three-judge panel in Republican Norm Coleman's recount trial have ordered that 23 rejected absentee ballots be opened and counted.
The three-judge panel hearing Republican Norm Coleman's election contest trial has ruled on some votes that apparently favor Democrat Al Franken. The ruling stems from 61 individual voters who told the court their ballots were improperly rejected and asked the court to count them.
The panel ruled that 23 voters who intervened in the case may have their ballots counted. It also ruled that the remaining voters who failed to prove their votes should be counted may submit additional documentation to get their votes included in the final tally.
The ruling means that at least another 23 votes could go to Franken expanding his lead,at least for now to 248. But Franken's lawyer Marc Elias said his team wouldn't be making projections on the vote totals:
"Right now we're in a process of letting the court go through and determine which votes ought to be counted," Elias said. "We're not, right now projecting what the lead is other than what it was coming in to this process which was 225."
Speaking for the Coleman legal team, attorney Ben Ginsberg said in the long run the ruling will benefit Coleman's case because it means more rejected ballots will be counted.
"And so while these were all Franken supporters, we take it as a very good ruling and consistent with the court's desire to enfranchise all wrongly-rejected ballots, which of course is what we've been advocating for," Ginsberg said.
Meanwhile, Dakota County Elections Manager Kevin Boyle resumed testifying about individual ballots. Many of them were rejected because city or county staff gave out the wrong ballots or failed to check for required signatures.
Coleman attorney Tony Trimble questioned Boyle instances where election judges gave no reason for rejecting ballots.
The three-judge panel hearing Coleman's election contest will make the final decision on whether to include votes the campaigns say were rejected due to election judges' errors. Kevin Boyle must still undergo cross-examination from the Franken side. After that, Coleman plans to call Plymouth and Wright County election officials.
The ballots belong to voters identified as supportive of Democrat Al Franken, and their votes are likely to increase his 225-vote lead over Republican Norm Coleman.
Attorneys from both sides, including Coleman attorney Ben Ginsburg, said they consider the decision as a step in the right direction.
"Although they're Franken voters, we see it as a very encouraging sign, because it shows that the court will listen to affidavit evidence from voters about their signatures and about their ballots, and allow their votes to be counted," Ginsburg said. "That's what we've been asking for all along, so it's very good news."
The judges also ordered that another ballot be checked to make sure there isn't a voter registration application inside. If the registration is indeed found inside, that ballot will also be opened and counted.
The ballots come from a larger group of 61 Franken voters who filed affidavits to get their rejected ballots counted. The judges say the other 36 voters can submit more information that could get their votes counted.
The order is the first time the judges have identified specific ballots to be opened and counted in the race.
An elections manager for Dakota County resumed testifying Tuesday morning in Republican Norm Coleman's election contest trial.
Coleman's attorneys are working through about 4,700 rejected absentee ballots, one by one. The tedious process is their way of presenting evidence they hope will convince a three-judge panel the ballots should be added to the race that DFLer Al Franken leads by 225 votes.
Dakota County Elections Manager Kevin Boyle has been testifying in the trial since Monday, in a ballot-by-ballot review of how his county handled absentee ballots.
On Monday, he said at least a dozen ballots were wrongly rejected because city or county staff gave out the wrong ballots, or failed to check for required signatures.
When asked about why the mistakes occurred, he said there were long lines and municipal employees were very busy during the weeks leading up to Election Day.
"We have municipal employees grabbing ballots once applications are given to them, directing voters to fill their ballot out and return it," Boyle said. "And I'm sure it was a very busy and chaotic time at City Hall."
The three-judge panel hearing Coleman's election contest will have to decide whether the ballotw that were wrongfully rejected due to clerical error will be included in the final vote tally.
As the trial entered its third week, the slow pace caused some visible frustration inside the courtroom.
During Monday's testimony, the Coleman campaign was able to introduce about 160 ballots -- one by one. Earlier in the day, an attorney for Al Franken said the Coleman legal team wasn't providing adequate information about each of the ballots presented.
Franken attorney David Lillehaug said the Coleman side hadn't identified each uncounted absentee ballot Coleman claimed was improperly rejected, why it was rejected and evidence as to why it should be counted. Instead, Lillehaug said Coleman's campaign had given it two spreadsheets.
"The impact is precisely what you saw last week in Anoka County, where we went in an excruciating fashion, ballot by ballot," Lillehaug said. "It's why, after two weeks, we're only through part of Ramsey, Washington, Anoka, and little Pine County."
Lillehaug then presented a memo to the court with the Franken campaign's arguments.
The Coleman campaign initially asked to have ballots introduced into broad categories, but that plan fell apart when Coleman's lawyers tried to introduce ballots that had been marked up by the Coleman campaign. The court then told Coleman's attorneys they had to subpoena the originals.
Coleman attorney Jim Langdon said he was puzzled by Lillehaug's objection.
"This is news to us at this moment, with this little grandstanding speech and memo being dropped on us," Langdon said Monday. "I'm still at a loss for what information they contend they don't have. We gave them more detailed reasons for each category, names and copies of ballots."
"I don't know what it is that they think we have not done," Langdon said.
The judges met privately and overruled Lillehaug's objection. But Judge Kurt Marben asked the two sides to see if there was a more expedient way to proceed with the case.
For now, the two sides have only agreed on some small categories, meaning the slow process is likely to continue.
- All Things Considered, 02/10/2009, 5:25 p.m.
Elizabeth Baier, based in Rochester, covers news in southeastern Minnesota for MPR News.