Lawsuits Erupt in Coleman-Franken Race

Wednesday, 14 Jan 2009 08:00 PM

By David A. Patten

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Like flurries building into an outright blizzard, the legal showdown between Republican Norm Coleman and challenger Al Franken is spawning a spate of related lawsuits.

The burgeoning disputes, observers say, now make it unlikely Minnesota that will have its full complement of U. S. senators before March.

Yesterday, 64 Franken voters who claim their absentee votes were improperly rejected filed suit to have their votes counted. The Franken campaign says it is not a party to that lawsuit, but concedes it is supporting it.

Ursela Cowan, 70, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune how her name was added to the lawsuit. “I was called and asked if I had voted for Franken. I told them, ‘How do you know who I voted for?’” she said.

The call came from the Franken campaign, Cowan said.

Democrats also filed an FEC suit against Coleman, alleging he broke campaign finance laws during the recount that ended with Franken leading by 225 votes, after he trailed Coleman for over six weeks.

Coleman supporters are jumping into the legal fracas as well. On Tuesday, a group of Republican activists announced they will be filing suit to block the counting of duplicate ballots.

Minnesota election officials have acknowledged that some counting errors did occur, but it’s not clear which ballots may have been counted twice. The Coleman campaign has identified 150 duplicate ballots, and also wants 654 rejected absentee ballots to be tabulated.

It says those ballots were wrongly rejected.

One reason the election contest is escalating: Minnesota law allows both campaigns to aggressively seek additional votes that were not counted in the recount. That means both Franken and Coleman are scouring the state looking for ways to add to their vote totals.

“Franken has filed a counterclaim in the contest, and he is free in that counterclaim to bring up any irregularities that he believes took place, including exclusion of ballots,” Ohio State University election law expert Sarah Cherry tells Newsmax.

State court officials have released a tentative schedule for the case that suggests it could drag on into March. Hearings before a three-judge panel could begin on Jan.21. Trial dates have been set for Feb.16 and Feb.23. And the rulings of the panel could ultimately be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

By Minnesota law, a winner cannot be certified until all legal options have been exhausted.

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