On the eve of a critical Canvassing Board session that could ultimately decide who will represent Minnesota in the U.S. Senate, challenger Al Franken charges that incumbent GOP Sen. Norm Coleman wants the Minnesota Supreme Court to block the counting of lawful ballots.
Coleman dismisses those allegations, arguing that city and county election officials just need clear standards to follow before they evaluate absentee ballots that were previously rejected.
“By refusing to agree to a uniform set of counting standards,” says Coleman campaign spokesman Luke Friedrich, “the Franken campaign is turning Minnesota '08 into Florida 2000. Our objective is to not let that happen.”
State election officials say as many as 1,600 absentee ballots may have been improperly excluded from the state’s vote tally. On Friday, the State Canvassing Board asked local election officials to count those ballots, while acknowledging it has no legal authority to order them to do so.
On Saturday, Coleman’s campaign filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to prevent city and county election officials from reviewing rejected absentee ballots until they can be given clear standards and guidelines.
Lead Franken attorney Marc Elias labeled that a “desperate” act. On Monday Franken released a statement charging that Coleman’s real goal is to stop the counting of all rejected absentee ballots whether they should have been counted or not.
Elias points to one portion of Coleman’s lawsuit requesting “no rejected absentee ballots be counted in the administrative recount.”
“This is shameless,” Franken communications director Andy Barr charged Monday. “Norm Coleman didn’t get his way on Friday, so he’s suing to stop the counting of lawful ballots and disenfranchise voters who did nothing wrong.”
Coleman spokesman Luke Friedrich responded by telling Newsmax: “Without these uniform standards, people’s ballots and votes will be treated differently and inconsistently – adding to greater confusion and undermining the integrity of the entire process.”
Coleman has been holding fast to a 192-vote lead since completion of the recount. The disputes over rejected absentee ballots could change that, however.
In Minnesota, voters must apply in writing for the right to cast an absentee ballot. About 290,000 Minnesota voters cast absentee ballots this year – approximately one in 10 Minnesota voters. Of those absentee ballots, about 12,000 were ruled invalid by local election officials.
Minnesota law provides only four reasons for ruling an absentee ballot invalid:
1. The voter’s name and address on the return envelop do not match the name and address on the absentee ballot application.
2. The absentee-ballot return envelope is unsigned, or the signature does not match the signature of the voter who signed the absentee ballot application.
3. The voter already had voted.
4. The voter was never registered to vote or was otherwise ineligible to vote in the precinct.
On Dec. 1, Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie asked all county and city election officials on to create a “fifth pile” of absentee ballots for ballots rejected for reasons that do not fit into any of the four lawful criteria.
Friedrich insists Coleman is not trying to block the counting of valid ballots.
“The intent of our petition is to put in place a uniform standard for the ‘fifth pile’ ballots,” Friedrich said.
“Without these uniform standards,” he added, “people’s ballots and votes will be treated differently and inconsistently – adding to greater confusion and undermining the integrity of the entire process. The only reason the Franken campaign would object to such uniform standards is to ensure that Florida chaos ensues in Minnesota.”
Minnesota Republicans may be expecting a sympathetic hearing before the state’s Supreme Court. Its seven-member Supreme Court consists of five justices appointed by Republicans, one appointed by then-Independent Gov. Jesse Ventura, and another who won election to the Supreme Court as an Independent. It’s unclear how quickly the Supreme Court will address the Coleman law suit.
Both sides have dropped thousands of challenges to regular ballots in recent days. It is believed the total number of challenges to non-absentee ballots will be fewer than 1,500, when the Canvassing Board convenes on Tuesday to begin ruling on individual ballots.
By one estimate, that process is expected to take at least four days.
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