GOP Sen. Norm Coleman’s bid to overtake Democratic challenger Al Franken hit a road block on Day One of his election lawsuit, as the three-judge panel hearing the case ruled that 5,000 copies of ballots presented by Coleman’s legal team could not be admitted as evidence.
Coleman, who unlike Franken appeared in court Monday to watch the proceedings, did not appear concerned over about the panel’s ruling, however.
“We have only one goal,” he said after the hearing. “To make sure every ballot is counted, and to make sure that every ballot that is counted is counted only once.”
Coleman’s team is contending that the state’s recount process, which began with Coleman ahead by 215 votes and concluded with him trailing Franken by 225 votes, has been seriously flawed.
His lawyers say some Franken votes were counted twice, while thousands of absentee ballots for Coleman that should have been weren’t.
Those absentee ballots immediately became the focus of the contest Monday, when Franken’s attorneys objected that the copies of ballots Coleman wanted the three-judge panel to provisionally review were not the “best evidence” available.
Coleman’s representatives admitted the copied ballots had been marked on for record-keeping purposes by staff during the long recount process, and that they couldn’t tell which markings were originally on the ballots and which were added later. But they said the copies were only being submitted for “administrative” purposes, and would be replaced later by the actual ballots.
After a brief recess, the judicial panel announced that it would sustain the objection from the Franken team, would not accept the copies, and would require that only originals to be submitted as evidence. The court then adjourned for the day.
Coleman’s team immediately characterized the issue as a procedural tactic that would result in unnecessary delay.
“What happened here today will slow the process down, but it’s not a big problem because the great state of Minnesota has a strong tradition of counting every ballot,” said Coleman recount attorney Ben Ginsberg. “And that’s what’s going to happen, despite Al Franken’s best efforts to stop that.”
Ginsberg added the Coleman campaign tried to subpoena the original ballots last week, but the Franken campaign had objected.
Ginsberg suggested it may now be necessary for election officials to produce all 12,000 of the absentee ballots that were rejected statewide on Election Day, in order to identify the approximately 5,000 that the Coleman team says were wrongly rejected. That process could take two weeks, he said.
During that period, the campaign will move on to present other aspects of its election dispute. On the trial’s opening day, Coleman watched anxiously as his attorneys squared off against Franken’s legal team. The case could drag on for more than a month and will likely determine the next U. S. senator from Minnesota.
In opening remarks, Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton appeared to warn the panel that it would take more than a few procedural errors on the part of election officials to overturn the findings of the Canvassing Board, which declared Franken ahead by 225 votes when the statewide recount ended.
“Overturning the result of the recount would be a breathtaking exercise in judicial power that should be undertaken in the rarest of cases and only under the most powerful of evidence,” Hamilton told the judges.
Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg countered that some Minnesota voters had been disenfranchised because their votes had been improperly rejected. “That every vote is counted is far and away the biggest issue in this case,” said Friedberg, “and it arises out of rejected absentee ballots.”
Coleman’s legal team has maintained that election officials did not receive uniform guidance or standards to indicate which absentee ballots should be ruled invalid. His attorneys would like the panel’s review to include a wide range of issues, while the Franken team is hoping to keep the case as limited and focused as possible
Coleman told the media on Monday that he was attending the hearing because the election “obviously is at a critical moment right now.” He added that he would be carefully following the proceedings throughout the trial, although not necessarily in person.
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