Norm Coleman and his attorneys are trying to sway judges to open and count at least 2,000 uncounted absentee ballots, even as Al Franken’s camp is still on the offensive, wanting to remove a pile of northwestern Minnesota ballots from that state’s U.S. Senate election tally.
Franken’s attorneys will argue before the state three-judge panel presiding over the election trial - which is in its fifth week - to slash 61 Becker County ballots from the election tally that they maintain were not properly documented and stored by officials.
This would be yet another blow to Coleman, who is determined to overturn the recount results that thus far have handed Franken a 225-vote victory. State law precludes Franken from assuming the Senate seat previously occupied by Coleman until the court contest officially ends and he is certified by his state as the winner.
Meanwhile, absent the legal fodder provided by this fresh cache of votes to parse, the Coleman case is winding down - with just a handful of local election officials left standing by to testify, according to the report, the Bemidji Pioneer reports.
According to Becker County’s auditor-treasurer Ryan Tangen, the 61 ballots Franken wants tossed mostly came from mail-in precincts.
County officials received the ballots by election night, but workers placed them in an unsealed box and left the box in the auditor’s office - instead of moving it to a nearby county election center as prescribed, said Tangen.
The ballots were found later in the week and moved to a secure room until the recount, when they were counted for the first time, according to the Pioneer report.
Franken’s lawyers argue they should not be counted because “there was no evidence to establish an appropriate chain of custody” between election night and when they were located later that week.
Coleman gained at least 19 more votes from that group than did Franken.
“This is an unusual situation,” Franken attorney David Lillehaug said Monday. “These ballots were simply in a box.”
Coleman’s campaign has alleged vote total irregularities occurred in the recount when some of those original ballots were counted along with the duplicates.
Tangen revealed that the ballots were in sealed envelopes, and he does not believe any were removed from the box. They were included in the recount upon the advice of the state attorney general because they were received before an election night deadline.
“I don’t feel that they were tampered with,” Tangen argued.
Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said if Franken’s campaign is going to object to the Becker County ballots, it also should object to the inclusion of 133 votes from a Minneapolis precinct - even though the ballots have not been found.
Becker County voters favored Coleman in the yet unsettled Nov. 4 election.
“I don’t expect Norm Coleman to be complaining about the way the ballots were stored, but we are,” Lillehaug said.
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