Coleman, Franken Make Closing Arguments Friday

Thursday, 12 Mar 2009 08:23 PM

By David A. Patten

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Closing arguments will begin Friday in the marathon Minnesota election contest expected to decide whether Democrat Al Franken or GOP Sen. Norm Coleman will serve in the 111th Congress.

Coleman’s legal team spent much of Thursday rebutting points made by Franken’s attorneys in recent weeks. That rebuttal concluded Thursday, and the three-judge panel hearing the case announced final arguments from the two legal teams would occur Friday.

Franken currently has an unofficial lead of about 260 votes, based on ballots the panel has ruled should be counted.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune is reporting that Coleman’s case, which originally was thought to involve several thousand ballots, is now down to 1,360. That’s the number Coleman’s attorneys presented to the judicial panel Wednesday.

The good news for Coleman, based on the Star-Tribune report, is that 60 percent of those ballots are from counties Coleman carried in November. But it is not clear how many votes the panel will order counted, or whether there is a scenario that gives Coleman a likely shot at overturning Franken’s current advantage.

On the other hand, still pending is a week-old Franken motion that Coleman’s case be dismissed altogether for lack of evidence. The panel has not said when it will issue a ruling.

Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg says Coleman’s case has had two primary elements: Getting additional votes counted that were wrongly rejected, and exposing inconsistencies in vote-counting standards that could call into question the entire election.

Ginsberg has clearly chaffed under a Feb. 13 ruling by the panel that appeared to significantly limit the number of ballots that could be presented for review. Ginsberg, a veteran of the 2000 Bush-Gore recount in Florida, said Thursday the Feb. 13 ruling left the election outcome “fatally flawed.”

That terminology has led to a widespread expectation the panel’s ruling will be appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and possibly to the U.S. Supreme Court. Minnesota law does not permit a certificate of election to be issued until both candidates have exhausted all legal remedies. Also, the panel has yet to rule on a week-old Franken motion that Coleman’s case be dismissed altogether for lack of evidence.

Although Coleman’s attorneys have suggested a new election might be in order and have hinted at further appeals, Ginsberg said his focus remains on the panel now hearing the election contest.

“We are concentrated on the three- judge panel and confident they will do the right thing to enfranchise Minnesota voters,” Ginsberg said Thursday.

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