Court rejects Franken bid to stop recount lawsuit

Al Franken
The contest for Minnesota's Senate seat continues after a three-judge panel refused Democrat Al Franken's request to block a lawsuit over the recount outcome.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

Franken came out on top of Republican Norm Coleman by 225 votes in the recount. But Coleman is contesting the result.

The dismissal means the trial on Coleman's lawsuit starts Monday.

Coleman argues that the recount process was flawed. He says votes were double-counted in some precincts and that more absentee ballots should be admitted.

Earlier today Norm Coleman asked the three presiding judges to order inspectors into 86 Minnesota precincts where his lawyers believe there were irregularities in the vote count.

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The inspectors would "go to those precincts where there are still questions and try to settle them," said Ben Ginsberg, one of Coleman's attorneys. One inspector would represent Coleman, one Franken and one would be neutral. Unsettled disputes would presumably be forwarded for consideration in the election trial, due to start Monday.

Franken's attorney argued it would be difficult to accomplish what Coleman wants before the trial starts. "It's almost physically impossible that could take place over the next three days," Franken attorney Marc Elias said.

And even if it could, Elias argued, state law doesn't allow for the process Coleman proposed. He said Coleman's proposal amounts to an end run around the state Canvassing Board and the process it set for determining whether or not votes were legally cast.

"How can it be that we're going to count these precincts under a new rule when we already counted 4,000 precincts under a different standard?" Elias asked.

Judge Elizabeth Hayden of Stearns County, a member of the three-judge panel, questioned Coleman's attorney along those same lines.

Noting the hundreds of hours that went into the recount and the state Canvassing Board's effort, Hayden asked: "So that all becomes moot? We start over and ballots can be accepted or rejected by different criteria?"

Coleman attorney Tony Trimble said that was the case. He said the judges are "the single set of eyes to give finality in Minnesota to the election dispute."

Coleman's hopes for overtaking Franken's current lead rests not just in picking up votes by correcting alleged irregularities but also by seeking to count several thousand rejected absentee ballots. Coleman's lawyers asked the judges on Thursday to order Minnesota counties to ship about 12,000 rejected absentee ballots to the court, so that they could be quickly accessible once the court decides whether they should be counted.

The judges indicated they could rule on the two motions later on Thursday. They are also considering a motion by Franken, argued a day earlier, to dismiss Coleman's case altogether.

Franken has asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to order that he get an election certificate before the resolution of the trial. On Wednesday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats would try to seat Franken but didn't say when, and on Thursday his spokesman said Senate Democrats may not make any such move for a few weeks.

As Coleman awaits resolution of the trial, he landed a new job. The Republican Jewish Coalition announced that he had agreed to join the group as a consultant and strategic adviser. Executive director Matt Brooks said Coleman would advise the 40,000-member group on policy, help with recruiting and deliver speeches around the country. Brooks said he wouldn't lobby for them.

Coleman expects his work with the group to be temporary and is still confident of prevailing in the election lawsuit, his spokesman Mark Drake said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)