Franken confident he'll win Minnesota Senate trial

Al Franken
Democrat Al Franken says he's confident he'll win the Minnesota Senate election trial.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

Democrat Al Franken says he's confident he'll win the Minnesota Senate election trial, but he's not ruling out an appeal if he doesn't.

Franken spoke briefly with reporters at a rally for blind and deaf Minnesotans at the Capitol today, while the trial continued in a courtroom about a block away.

Meanwhile, Franken's lawyers resumed calling individual voters to testify today. Ten voters who cast their votes by absentee took the stand this morning, including Audrey Cohen of Edina.

Election judges rejected Cohen's ballot because she was not a registered voter. But she told the panel she had automatically registered when she changed the address on her driver's license. Cohen said it was very important that her vote get tallied.

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"My father fought in the Mexican-American border war, the first round and then on to World War I in one of the worst battles," Cohen said. "So I'm a very, very strong advocate for the U.S. and I want my vote to count."

Of Coleman's case, Franken said his opponent "has chosen to attack the Minnesota court system, to attack the elections officials and to try to erase Minnesota voters' votes. I know he's disappointed, but we've come through a fair election, a fair and very meticulous recount and we're going through now a very fair court challenge. I think it's time now that we address the people's business."

It's been four full months since voters went to the polls on Election Day and created a margin so narrow in the Senate race that it triggered an automatic recount.

In his own comments to reporters on Tuesday, Coleman raised doubts about the ability of the three-judge panel to determine who won the election.

"Clearly there is a question about whether this court can certify who got the most legally cast ballots," he said.

After the recount, Franken leads by 225 votes. Coleman's legal challenge is primarily focused on rejected absentee ballots. He is also trying to wipe out some Franken votes attached to alleged counting irregularities.

Coleman rested his case after more than five weeks of testimony on Monday. Franken's attorneys say it will take them between two and three weeks to present their side of the case.

Under a prior court order, secrecy envelopes possibly including registration cards will be opened soon to determine how many absentee voters may have mistakenly put their registration cards in the secrecy envelope, instead of the outer envelope. The order said those voters are likely to have their ballots counted, assuming they met all other legal requirements.

It was originally believed that as many as 1,600 rejected absentee ballots could fall into that category, but the final number appears to be far less.

Jim Gelbmann, deputy secretary of state, said he will report to the court by Friday how many secrecy envelopes included valid registration cards. Even then, the absentee ballot could remain on the rejected pile if there were other reasons for turning it aside, Gelbmann said in an interview.

Gelbmann said searches conducted by counties and city election workers have found some of the ballots in question were actually accepted, or the voter trumped their absentee ballot by showing up in person on Election Day. He said he won't give specific details on what the searches have turned up until he provides that information to the court.

Meanwhile, Minnesota's elections director said the statewide voter registration system is still being updated from last November's election.

Gary Poser testified under cross-examination that there can be a gap between the time a person registers to vote and when the state database reflects that registration.

Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg asked Poser if local officials and the attorneys in the case could have relied on incorrect information in deciding whether a voter was registered.

"A voter lookup form from the secretary of state's office that was entered into evidence five or six weeks ago, were we to run that voter now, it could have completely different data in it, couldn't it?" asked Friedberg.

"It could," said Poser.

Poser says about 600 precincts still haven't finished updating last November's election voting records into the secretary of state's database.

Coleman's attorneys contend that errors in the database has led to some voters whose absentee ballots were wrongfully rejected.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)