Franken's request for election certificate rebuffed

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Franken declares victory
DFLer Al Franken, with his wife Franni, declared victory in the Minnesota U.S. Senate race last week, shortly after the state Canvassing Board certified the results of a recount showing him leading Republican Norm Coleman by 225 votes. Coleman says he will sue.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Democrat Al Franken is asking Minnesota's governor and secretary of state to issue an election certificate that would enable him to take office in the U.S. Senate. Both officials denied that request.

Franken's lawyers argue that a seven-day waiting period referenced in state law has passed, and he should get the signed certificate. Franken led Republican Norm Coleman by 225 votes after a statewide recount that was completed last Monday.

State law says an election certificate shall not be issued until legal challenges are decided. Republican Norm Coleman is contesting the recount in a lawsuit.

Franken attorney Marc Elias disputes the notion that the election certificate can not yet be issued. He argues that federal election law entitles Franken to receive the certificate before the lawsuit is settled.

Elias said it should be issued today, and did not rule out legal action if the certificate is not signed.

"For today I think we're going to do what we've done in the past, which is to trust that the governor will want to do the right thing," Elias said. "To trust that he and the Secretary of State will sign the certificate, and Al Franken will then be able to take that certificate to the United States Senate."

Gov. Pawlenty said in a statement that he would not issue an election certificate until the court challenge is resolved.

"I have a duty to follow state law and our statutes are clear on this issue. I am prohibited from issuing a certificate of election until the election contest in the courts has been resolved," said Pawlenty.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's office responded in the same way, saying that the law is clear.

The statute in question states, in part:

"No certificate of election shall be issued until seven days after the canvassing board has declared the result of the election. In case of a contest, an election certificate shall not be issued until a court of proper jurisdiction has finally determined the contest."

The statement didn't specifically address Franken's argument that federal law supecedes the state law.

Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan dismissed the move as a power play meant to get around Franken's need to defend the election outcome in court.

"He can't and won't be seated in a seat he didn't win, so he is trying this underhanded attempt to blatantly ignore the will of Minnesotans and the laws of the state," Sheehan said.

Franken's campaign was due to file a response to Coleman's lawsuit later Monday. Elias characterized the Coleman action as "riddled with errors that are fatal to much if not all of the claims made in the petition."

By law, a trial on the lawsuit must start within three weeks of its filing, which occurred last Tuesday. It will be heard by a three-judge panel that has not yet been named.