The pool of ballots from which Sen. Norm Coleman’s legal team could squeeze out an improbable come-from-behind victory against Democrat Al Franken dwindled further Monday with news that just 387 ballots now will be considered for tabulation.
Last week, the three-judge panel hearing the election lawsuit identified 400 ballots that would be counted, compared to the 1,388 ballots the Coleman legal team had sought.
That ruling was widely considered a critical blow to Coleman’s chances of taking the lead once the panel is finished counting votes.
On Monday afternoon, Minnesota Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann told StarTribune.com that 13 of the 400 votes identified by the panel had already been counted, either on Election Day or in the subsequent statewide recount. That means Coleman’s chances of gaining the 225 votes that he officially needs to catch up to Franken are even smaller.
On Tuesday, a hearing before the election panel reviewing the case may spell the beginning of the end of the marathon quest to seat a second U.S. senator from Minnesota.
The panel is expected to spend an hour or two opening the 387 ballots, deciding which will be counted. The panel must also rule on several pending motions.
One motion is a Coleman request that 133 paper ballots lost in a Minneapolis precinct not be counted. Because the ballots were missing, election officials relied on a machine count from the precinct on the night of the election instead.
Coleman’s team has argued that counting votes that cannot be supported by paper ballots is wrong.
A second Coleman motion contends that errors by poll workers led to some ballots being counted twice. And Coleman’s attorneys also contend that different standards were applied to different ballots in determining which should be counted, thereby disenfranchising some Minnesota voters.
StarTribune.com reports that if the panel disallows the lost ballots and the duplicate ballots, it could result in perhaps a 100-vote swing in Coleman’s favor.
Sarah Cherry, an independent election observer from the University of Ohio’s Moritz School of Law, tells Newsmax that if the panel has prepared its rulings in response to the as-yet unresolved motions, the outcome of the current legal fight may be obvious by day’s end Tuesday.
“I have no idea if they will have those [rulings] ready but it would not surprise me if they issue all of their orders at the end of Tuesday,” Cherry tells Newsmax.
Coleman has already made it clear that he plans to appeal any adverse outcome to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Franken’s legal team maintains that once the Minnesota Supreme Court reviews the case and issues its finding, state law would require officials to issue a certificate of election. Other legal scholars have said it is not clear whether such a certificate would be issued, if Coleman opts to advance his legal challenge into the federal court system and possibly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Hill.com reports that Republican senators, including Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, are encouraging Coleman to continue his legal fight all the way to the nation’s highest court. The political cost of carrying the dispute beyond Minnesota and into the federal courts could be high, however.
Coleman is said to have an interest in future political office in the Gopher State, including a possible run for governor. Some political pundits say continuing the fight could anger Minnesota voters. University of Minnesota political science professor Lawrence Jacobs told USA Today: “If he hangs on and goes to the federal courts, he will run the risk of being a sore loser.”
The patience of Senate Democrats may also be running short as well. Democrats covet a Franken victory so they can increase their caucus of U.S. senators to 59, just a single vote short of the 60 needed to head off any filibuster.
So far, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid has backed down from earlier suggestions that Democrats could seat Franken prior to the issuance of a certificate of election from Minnesota.
Minnesota GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty also may come under political pressure to sign an election certificate, if Coleman loses an appeal on the state supreme court level.
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