Two months after Minnesota voters appeared to return incumbent GOP Sen. Norm Coleman to the U.S. Senate by 725 votes, state officials Monday declared Democrat Al Franken the winner of the election.
Franken was named the victor by the Minnesota Canvassing Board, the five-member panel appointed and led by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who has been criticized for ties to the ACORN voter-registration organization the federal government is investigating for alleged vote fraud, as well as to left-wing billionaire George Soros.
The announcement marks the end of a recount process that overturned the apparent result of Election Day.
The board ruling will not result directly in the issuance of documents needed to seat Franken in the Senate, however. Under Minnesota law, that can take place only after all of Coleman’s legal options have been exhausted.
Franken’s apparent victory cannot be certified for at least seven days to allow time for legal challenges to be filed.
The Canvassing Board’s decision followed a state Supreme Court ruling on Monday rejecting Coleman’s request to factor in another 654 rejected absentee ballots from pro-Coleman precincts. That ruling was a major blow to Coleman’s hopes of winning re-election.
The court pointed out that the Franken campaign did not agree with the Coleman campaign that the ballots had been rejected improperly, and it invited the Coleman campaign to file a lawsuit pressing to count those ballots. But in past elections, courts have been very reluctant to issue any ruling that changes election results once state authorities certify them.
“Given our campaign’s unwavering commitment to ensuring that the vote of no Minnesotan is disenfranchised, today’s ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court is both disappointing and disheartening,” said Coleman recount attorney Fritz Knaak in a statement.
The ruling “effectively disregards the votes of hundreds of Minnesotans,” Knaak said.
Coleman’s attorneys also have objected to 150 duplicate ballots that may have been counted twice. They now say a legal challenge to the board’s declaring Franken the winner is “inevitable.”
Democrats have spoken increasingly of seating Franken on a provisional basis, until the court challenges, which could take weeks or even months, are resolved. But Senate Republicans, led by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, have promised to filibuster any such effort.
Cornyn says he is confident that no Republican would join Democrats to approve seating someone whose election victory has not been formally certified. Doing so, he says, would cause “damage to the Senate and its reputation as an institution,” adding, “It would be a recipe for chaos.”
If Franken is not seated, the new Senate probably would convene with just 98 members. The other vacancy stems from the seat President-elect Barack Obama vacated, which has been entangled in the charges pending against Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The state Supreme Court ruling that cleared the path to Franken’s being declared the winner was just the latest in a litany of electoral frustration for Coleman. Virtually all significant court decisions and election rulings have gone against him, a trend raising eyebrows as well as alarms among Republicans.
“Any fair-minded person should be concerned about what’s going on in Minnesota,” writes Kevin Hassett of Bloomberg.com.
The former adviser to Sen. John McCain adds, “Throughout the recount, the state’s majority political machine has been grinding away in Franken’s favor.”
Washington Times editor and writer Peter J. Parisi tells Newsmax, “I predicted to everyone I knew that I could guaran-damn-tee that Franken would steal this thing, and it looks like I was right.”
After counting 933 absentee ballots that were rejected improperly — probably Coleman’s last best hope of regaining the lead that he enjoyed for more than six weeks following the Nov. 4 election — Franken’s advantage swelled to 255 votes.
In yet another legal setback for Coleman, the state Supreme Court on Monday rejected Coleman’s request that another 654 absentee ballots rejected from pro-Coleman precincts be counted. The ruling was a major blow to Coleman’s hopes of winning reelection.
The court decided not to require state officials to count those ballots because the Franken campaign did not agree with the Coleman campaign that the ballots had been improperly rejected. The Coleman campaign can take further legal action to request the counting of those ballots, but in past elections courts have been very reluctant to issue a ruling that change election results certified by state authorities.
On Friday, Minnesota GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty slammed the state’s Supreme Court for turning over too much authority to the two campaigns, saying it effectively gave them veto power 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.”
At times, Canvassing Board faux pas have contributed to conservatives’ growing sense of unease over its deliberations. The five-member panel supervises all aspects of the recount that deposed Coleman as the apparent winner.
Most observers agree that the board has maintained the appearance of objectivity, although Secretary of State Ritchie accidentally moved on Dec. 16 that a disputed ballot “be allocated to Senator Franken.”
“Weariness or Freudian slip?” a Star-Tribune reporter quipped in reaction to the gaffe.
Ritchey, who has ties to both ACORN and left-wing financier Soros, quickly amended his motion, specifying “candidate Franken,” and spectators appeared to dismiss the flub with a laugh.
The incident no doubt struck Coleman supporters as less than amusing, however, given Ritchie’s chairmanship over the largest recount in Minnesota history.
A Franken win would leave the Obama administration just a single vote shy of being able to cut off debate over U.S. Senate legislation anytime it wants.
To be sure, the board has faced some tough calls. On Dec. 17, for example, it took a vote away from Coleman because it had been cast on ballot for the primary instead of the general election. No state law addresses that unusual circumstance.
According to StarTribune.com, Coleman attorney Tony Trimble urged the board not to “disenfranchise a voter for the ballot [he] was given, that came from election judges.”
The 2008 Recount Guide from Ritchie’s office states: “a ballot or vote must not be rejected for a technicality if it is possible to decide what the voter intended, even though the voter may have made a mistake or the ballot is damaged.”
Saying the situation was “too bad, it breaks my heart,” Ritchie moved that the ballot be placed in the “other” pile, and the board agreed so Coleman did not get credit for the vote.
For Coleman, it was just one more setback in what has become a nightmarish electoral chronology:
Nov. 4, Coleman Leads by 725 Votes — Unofficial tallies of election results statewide show Coleman the winner by 725 votes out of nearly 3 million cast. The narrow margin automatically triggers a recount.
Nov. 5, Coleman Leads by 475 Votes — Ritchie’s office distributes a news release stating, “In Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race, a slim margin of 475 votes favors Republican candidate and Republican senator Norn Coleman over Democratic challenger Al Franken.” The 250-vote difference? It stems from adjusted figures state and county officials around the state submitted.
Nov. 6, Coleman Leads by 438 Votes — Coleman’s margin continues to diminish as more adjusted figures come in. Why the adjustments consistently favor Franken goes largely unexplained.
“What struck me as really outrageous was, in the beginning, how Coleman’s lead shrank,” comments Matthew Vadum, senior editor for Capital Research Center, a conservative watchdog of nonprofit groups. “The counties were allowed to correct their vote totals with barely a peep from Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. He just considered all this to be legitimate, and it was their prerogative to do that — and it looks like he let them get away with murder.”
Vadum tells Newsmax, “That basically laid the foundation for the slugfest now going on in the recount contest. He chopped off Coleman’s lead and got it within stealing distance.”
Nov. 7, Coleman Leads by 239 Votes — Ritchie’s office announces the State Canvassing Board will convene to begin supervising the statewide recount on Nov. 18. “This week,” Ritchie adds, “county election officials have been busy proofing the unofficial results previously submitted to this office’s Web site. Corrections have resulted in a shifting margin which now stands at 239 votes with the advantage to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman.” Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak says the campaign is “profoundly suspicious,” adding, “We’re mystified at this apparent pattern of every time there seems to be a change, it happens after hours and it happens in the Franken [campaign’s] favor.”
Nov. 8, Coleman Leads by 221 Votes — The New York Times reports that 32 absentee ballots were found after an election worker drove around with them in the back seat of his car for five days. An initial protest from Coleman is withdrawn, and the votes are counted. A document posted on the secretary of state’s Web site says shifting vote counts are “routine,” citing a 2006 election in which 2,100 ballot changes occurred after Election Day.
Nov. 12, Coleman Leads by 221 Votes — Ritchie, as secretary of state, names the members of the Canvassing Board who will oversee the recount: Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric J. Magnuson, whom GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed; Minnesota Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson, also appointed by Pawlenty; Chief Judge Kathleen R. Gearin of the Second Judicial District, a solid Democratic area; Assistant Chief Judge Edward J. Cleary, also of the Second Judicial District. By law, Ritchie will chair the board. Pawlenty appears on “Hannity & Colmes” and defends Minnesota’s secretary of state: “I know Mark Ritchie. He is a partisan on the other side of the aisle, as I am as governor. He is trying his best to conduct this fairly. The laws in Minnesota have certain limitations. There’s no evidence that he or anyone else has had actual wrong-doing. What we’re saying is that this process has resulted in some strange irregularities — statistical irregularities — and some suggestion that something is amiss.”
Nov. 18, Coleman Leads by 215 Votes — Ritchie convenes the first meeting of the Canvassing Board. The New York Times reports that the margin now stands at 215 votes. A statewide hand recount begins.
Nov. 19, Coleman Leads by 215 Votes — Ramsey County District Court Judge Dale B. Lindman grants a Franken campaign request that the county be required to release data on absentee ballots that may have been rejected improperly.
Nov. 21, Coleman Leads by 136 Votes — Coleman’s lead begins to slip almost as soon as the recount begins. In Duluth, Franken gains 30 votes, most attributed to errors stemming from outdated Eagle scanning machines. By day two, 46 percent of the 2.9 million ballots cast have been recounted. Some 823 ballots have been challenged by the two campaigns, generally on the grounds that local officials had misinterpreted the voter’s intent. As soon as a ballot is challenged, it is set aside and will not be counted until the Canvassing Board rules on the dispute.
Nov. 26, Coleman Leads by 238 Votes — As the recount moves to precincts favoring Coleman, his lead begins to increase. The Canvassing Board rules it does not have the authority to order local election officials, as requested by the Franken campaign, to reconsider the 12,000 absentee ballots rejected on Election Day. It agrees to discuss the matter further in future meetings.
Dec. 2, Coleman Leads by 340 Votes — Coleman’s lead continues to grow. The campaigns learn that 171 ballots in heavily Democratic Ramsey County were not counted because of a combination of machine and human error. When those votes are counted, Franken picks up 37 votes.
Dec. 3, Coleman Leads by 303 Votes — Minneapolis elections director Cindy Reichert reports that 133 votes cast on Election Day were double counted — that is, they were run twice through the optical scan machines that tabulate the vote. Correcting this error costs Franken about 35 votes, but other aspects of the recount favor Franken. Meanwhile, the number of challenged ballots in the race swells to nearly 6,000. Resolving those challenges, Franken’s attorneys say, actually will give him a 22-vote lead. About 138,000 ballots still must be recounted, officials say.
Dec. 5, Coleman Leads by 192 Votes — Ritchie extends the recount deadline because the 133 ballots cannot be accounted for in Ward 3, Precinct 1. Records show 133 ballots were cast that cannot be located. Not counting the ballots in the Democratic stronghold would cost Franken about 46 votes; the whole point of the recount is to review the actual ballots, however. Ritchie dispatches Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann to aid in the search and to serve as an official observer. Also, Ritchie asks local election officials statewide to begin identifying and separating absentee ballots that may have been improperly rejected.
Dec. 10, Coleman Leads by 192 Votes — The Minneapolis elections director informs Ritchie that the 133 missing ballots cannot be located. Coleman’s attorneys ask that the fate of the 133 votes be decided in court. Franken’s attorneys want the Canvassing Board to accept the vote tallies recorded on Election Day.
Dec. 11, Coleman Leads by 192 Votes — On the eve of a Canvassing Board meeting to decide how to handle wrongly rejected absentee ballots, Franken submits 62 affidavits from Franken supporters who say they were disenfranchised wrongly when their absentee ballots were denied. Franken also releases a six-minute YouTube video of voters’ stories. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune characterized Franken’s affidavits as “the latest attempt by the campaign to increase the pressure on the board to count absentee ballots that were improperly rejected.”
Dec. 12, Coleman Leads by 192 Votes — By unanimous vote, the five-member Canvassing Board asks all 87 counties to include in their recount votes all absentee ballots deemed to have been rejected improperly. The Coleman campaign, concerned that different counties may use different standards for evaluating absentee ballots, asks the state Supreme Court to order a halt to the counting of absentee ballots. In a double-whammy for Coleman, the Board also decides to accept the Election Day vote tally, including the 133 votes missing from Ward 3, Precinct 1.
Dec. 16, Coleman Leads by 192 Votes — The Canvassing Board begins to review challenged ballots. The Board first considers ballots for Coleman that had been challenged by Franken’s attorneys. Most of these ballots are ultimately expected to go to Coleman, which should widen his lead.
Dec. 17, Coleman Leads by 358 Votes — The counting of Franken challenges concludes with Coleman’s lead growing as expected, to 358 votes. The board discusses a Coleman request that as many as 150 duplicate ballots that the campaign believes already have been counted should not be counted again. Ritchie lectures Coleman’s attorneys that the staff is “not happy” to see the issue being raised. Coleman, he said, is asking the board “to settle a question you raised very late and a lot of legal paper came to us late — like a blizzard.”
Dec. 18, Coleman Leads by 5 Votes — The counting begins of ballots for Franken that Coleman had challenged. Franken rapidly cuts into Coleman’s lead, as the Canvassing Board awards the votes. In a stunning setback for Coleman, he leads by a mere 5 votes by day’s end, with more ballot challenges remaining. On one ballot, where the oval next to Franken’s name had been darkened but Franken’s name had been changed to “Frankenstine,” the board voted 3-2 to award the vote to Franken.
Also, another legal decision goes against Coleman: The state Supreme Court rejects his request that the counting of rejected absentee ballots be halted, and orders the two campaigns to agree on which ballots were rejected improperly.
Dec. 19, Franken Leads by 249 Votes — Franken’s campaign continues to steamroll ahead, and for the first time since Nov. 4, Franken leads rather than Coleman. Also, the Canvassing Board rules that the 150 duplicate ballots should be added into the vote totals. The Canvassing Board tells Coleman it will count (or double count) the votes and says he can challenge the board’s decision in court. The Coleman campaign immediately files an appeal with the state Supreme Court. The Coleman campaign predicts the Franken lead is only temporary.
Dec. 20, Franken Leads by 249 Votes — The Franken campaign projects that once all dropped challenges — that is, challenges initially filed but later withdrawn — are added back into the tally, Franken will lead by 35 to 50 votes.
Dec. 24, Franken Leads by 46 Votes — Adding back in the withdrawn challenges helps Coleman, but not enough for him to retake the lead. The state Supreme Court, in a 5-0 opinion, denies a Coleman request to block the Canvassing Board from certifying the election results until the fate of the 150 duplicate ballots can be resolved. However, Coleman will be free to file subsequent legal appeals. Coleman attorney Knaak responds: “We are deeply disappointed.”
Dec. 28, Franken Leads by 46 Votes — Minnesota’s other senator, Democrat Amy Klobuchar, issues a call for the candidate certified the winner by the Canvassing Board to be seated on a provisional basis, even if court challenges are pending.
Dec. 29, Franken Leads by 49 Votes — The Canvassing Board awards a few last outstanding votes, and Franken’s margin increases to 49. Coleman’s campaign identifies 654 absentee ballots in counties where the voting patterns favor the incumbent GOP senator, in addition to the 933 ballots city and county election officials had identified. As expected, the two candidates are unable to agree on which ballots should be counted, and a series of meetings convene around the state to make a determination. Also, a Minneapolis Star-Tribune analysis of the voting trends suggests that counting the rejected absentee ballots probably would favor Franken. The analysis does not include the 654 new ballots Coleman identified.
Dec. 31, Franken Leads by 49 Votes — The Coleman campaign sends a letter to the secretary of state’s office objecting that the process for deciding which absentee ballots were rejected improperly will lead to “an invalid and unreliable election result.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., suggests Franken is closing in on a victory. "At this stage, it appears that Franken will be certified the winner by the State Canvassing Board,” a statement from Reid’s office declares. That draws a sharp rebuke from GOP leaders. “The American people will see right through Harry Reid’s crass partisan power grab,” says former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.
Jan. 2, Franken Leads by 49 Votes — Local election officials send 933 rejected absentee ballots to the secretary of state’s office for counting. Texas GOP Sen. Cornyn warns that Republicans will filibuster any attempt to seat Franken when Congress convenes.
Jan. 5, Franken Leads by 225 Votes — Counting the 933 rejected absentee ballots balloons Franken’s lead. The state Supreme Court rules that it will not order state officials to count 654 other absentee ballots that Coleman says should be included. The Canvassing Board schedules a Monday afternoon meeting to certify a winner.
Weeks of legal disputes are expected to follow the Canvassing Board’s decision.
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