Court ruling makes Coleman win unlikelyby Elizabeth Stawicki, Minnesota Public Radio
It's looking less likely that Republican Norm Coleman will surpass Democrat Al Franken's 225-vote lead in Minnesota's Long-running race for U.S. Senate. The three-judge panel hearing Coleman's election contest says it will consider opening and counting at most only 400 absentee ballots.
St. Paul, Minn. — After more than two weeks of deliberation and seven weeks of trial, the judges ordered county elections officials to deliver 400 ballots to the secretary of state's office by noon on Monday. The panel emphasized that the 400 only will be considered and not every ballot identified in the order will be opened and counted. But those that are, will be opened and counted Tuesday morning at the judicial center.
Democrat Al Franken's attorney Marc Elias said he was pleased with the order and that he's looking forward to seeing what happens next week when the judges consider the 400 ballots. He said Coleman's ballot universe of 1,300 has shrunk to the point it will be difficult for Coleman to overtake Franken's lead after the recount.
"Look, the math is the math," Elias said. "Obviously we feel pretty good about where we stand but we're going to wait until Tuesday for these ballots to be opened and counted because we don't know what's in these envelopes."
And presumably neither does the Coleman camp, but even before the potential 400 are opened, Coleman's campaign issued a press release that said if the panel bases its final count on this order, Coleman will appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg characterized the order as an "April Fool's Day ruling." He acknowledged it would be difficult for Coleman to make up the vote difference with such a limited number of votes in play.
"It is unfortunate that the court has taken this tact because it continues to disenfranchise thousands of Minnesotans should be counted, whose votes would have been counted if they lived in just a different jurisdiction," Ginsberg said.
The judges explained they will consider only 400 absentee ballots because the Coleman camp did not prove its case that more should be opened. Coleman's lawyers asked the judges to presume that Minnesota voters followed the law but the panel said it could not make such presumptions. It said the panel carefully reviewed each ballot to determine if there was evidence that the voter complied with the law.
The panel also called Coleman's presumptions unreasonable in light of the small number of absentee ballots at issue and that those ballots had already been carefully reviewed as many as three times by state and local election officials.
If the panel counts all 400 ballots and those were the only additional ballots it considers, Coleman would have to win 75 percent of the votes to overcome Franken's 225-vote lead. Such an outcome is highly unlikely given the close margin of the original count.
One of the 400 ballots under consideration is that of June Srok of Duluth, who's happy that her vote may get counted after all.
"I think it's great," Srok said. "I think it should be. I mean, if I didn't want to vote, I wouldn't have voted, and then, I would have just thrown it away. No, I think that each and every vote should be counted."
Meanwhile, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the ballots will arrive by courier to his office this week. Ritchie said he's pleased the process is moving forward and feels like the order adds momentum to get the case resolved.
"This order is very detailed and very precise," Ritchie said. "So next Tuesday, after they've seen them on Monday, they will have an exact number. And we expect their final order to come almost immediately."
The ruling is one step towards Minnesota having two senators but the case is by no means over. Coleman's attorneys have said they'll appeal to the state supreme court. That would have to be filed within 10 days of the three-judge panel's final decision. Coleman has also raised the possibility of filing an equal protection case in federal court.
(MPR Reporters Mark Zdechlik, Tom Scheck, Tim Pugmire and Bob Kelleher also contributed to this report.)
- Morning Edition, 04/01/2009, 7:25 a.m.