Senate trial picks up speed; 10 elections officials testify

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City clerks from several Twin Cities' suburbs -- including Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Edina and Minnetonka -- fielded questions from attorneys from both Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken's teams. The three-judge panel also heard testimony from election officials in Olmsted, Cass and Lyon counties.

Coleman's legal team is trying to show that election officials in different areas counted similar ballots differently -- creating a systemic problem with the election -- and therefore more ballots should be counted.

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Franken's attorneys, on the other hand, are trying to show the effort officials took determine which ballots were eligible, and which were not.

During midday and afternoon press conferences Thursday, Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg criticized the three-judge panel's order from last week that narrowed the ballot categories in question. He said the panel created a problem with the ruling, because hundreds of ballots that have already been counted could now also potentially fall into one of the illegal categories.

The ruling limited the number of votes Coleman might be able to get counted as he tries to overturn Democrat Al Franken's 225-vote lead.

"At the end of the day, this court will face what is a conundrum of having to certify the number of legally cast votes for each candidate while receiving evidence ... that, in fact, there are illegal votes, by their definition, included in the counts they're going to have to certify as legal votes," Ginsberg said.

Franken lawyers have said the panel's decision helped clarify the trial standards and the Coleman side is delaying the proceeding.

Randy Schreifels
Randy Schreifels, Stearns County auditor-treasurer who oversees elections, testifies during the Senate vote recount trial Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009 in St. Paul. Minn.
(AP Photo-pool/Jim Mone)

The three judges on the panel -- Elizabeth Hayden, Kurt Marben and Denise Reilly --- have not made any public comments since the trial began more than three weeks ago.

"I think you're seeing things going quickly because the standards have become clearer," Franken's lead attorney Marc Elias said.

Elias said his team will file papers with the court on Friday that will specify how many ballots his campaign believes should be opened. He said some of the ballots on that list will overlap with Coleman's list.

Meanwhile, Coleman's attorney Ginsberg said his team plans to call Cindy Reichert, Minneapolis' top election official, to testify sometime next week.

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