Alan Page, the former NFL star and Minnesota Supreme Court justice who will choose the panel of judges that will effectively determine the next senator of Minnesota, is a staunch critic of the controversial method used to decide which absentee ballots would be included in the recount – a major complaint of GOP Sen. Norm Coleman’s campaign.
State law says the chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, Paul Magnuson, should appoint the three-judge panel to hear Coleman’s appeal. Magnuson, however, served on the Canvassing Board that issued many of the rulings that the three-member panel will be asked to review.
Anxious to avoid any apparent partiality, Magnuson has recused himself, and announced that Page would appoint the panel.
Page is one of the more colorful characters in the colorful Gopher State’s public arena. He was a six-time All-Pro defensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings’ “Purple People Eaters.” He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame and was named the 34th greatest football player of all time by The Sporting News in 1988.
After retiring, he pursued a legal career with the same unwavering focus with which he used to chase NFL quarterbacks. He bucked the usual back-room system of gaining appointment to serve as a judge on Minnesota’s highest court, and is the only member of the court to attain his judicial seat by election – justices are almost always appointed by governors. Page ran for the job as an independent.
Coleman’s campaign says it welcomes Page’s appointments.
"We have every reason to believe Justice Page will appoint a three-judge panel that will carry out its duties in a fair and impartial manner," Mark Drake, a spokesman for the Coleman campaign, told TwinCities.com on Wednesday.
One of the key points of Coleman’s lawsuit is that all of the absentee ballots improperly rejected on Election Night were not counted, due to the process the state used to determine which ballots would be counted.
The state Supreme Court ordered that Democratic challenger Al Franken, the Coleman campaign, and local election officials all had to agree an absentee ballot should be included, before that vote could be counted. This effectively gave each party a veto power over which ballots would be accepted.
Coleman has identified another 654 ballots it says should be tallied, and has objected to the counting of about 150 ballots that it says were added twice.
Page was one of two justices who dissented in the opinion that established the controversial procedure.
Page wrote in his dissent: "The court has abdicated its role as the defender of the fundamental right to vote. Instead, it has made the candidates and their parties the gatekeepers — even though they are likely to be more concerned with their own election prospects than with protecting the absentee voters' right to vote."
Minnesota GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty also criticized the procedure.
During his weekly program on Minneapolis-based WCCO radio, the governor suggested the court effectively gave veto power to the Franken campaign over which ballots ought to be counted.
“It seems odd that you would turn over somebody’s legal right to vote to the campaigns,” Pawlenty said. “It seems to me that would be a matter of law, or facts of law, for the courts to determine.”
By Minnesota law, the Coleman trial must begin no later than Jan. 26, and a winner in the race cannot be certified until all legal avenues have been exhausted.
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