Coleman: Franken Wants Senate to Resolve Election

Posted November 18, 2008 at 6:19pm

ST. PAUL, Minn. — With a statewide recount set to begin today in the contentious and razor-thin contest between Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and comedian Al Franken (D), Coleman’s campaign on Tuesday accused Franken of trying to delay the recount in hopes that the Democratic-controlled Senate would eventually vote Franken into the contested seat.

A Coleman campaign lawyer called the Franken team’s attempts to prevent the race from being officially called on Tuesday “horseplay” designed to throw the election into the Senate. If Minnesota authorities are unable to resolve the election, it is possible that the Senate may be asked to determine a winner.

“I think that to be honest this is for an audience outside the state of Minnesota,” said Fritz Knaak, the Coleman lawyer. “That we’re basically set up here for a Senate contest inside the United States Senate. It’s the only plausible explanation I can come up with for this horseplay.”

The Franken campaign angrily denied the suggestion.

“The entire team’s strategy is to let this process work out,” said Marc Elias, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic election lawyer working for the Franken campaign. “And to have confidence that as we go forward … to make sure every vote is counted.”

The Coleman campaign maintains the Senator won the election by 215 votes, while the Franken campaign said the race starts over today tied “zero-zero, with 2.9 million to go.”

The accusations came following a vote Tuesday by the Minnesota Election Canvassing Board to begin the recount. The board also said it would consider a request by the Franken campaign to include some rejected absentee ballots.

A statewide, mandatory hand recount is scheduled to begin today to determine the winner of the most expensive Senate race in the country. While Minnesota’s 87 counties can decide when to begin their recount, they must be completed by Dec. 5.

The race came down to a mere 215 votes out of some 2.9 million ballots cast, a difference of .007 percent. Minnesota election law requires a recount in races closer than one-half of 1 percent.

The recount has gained national attention because it could put Democrats in the Senate closer to the 60 votes they need to break a filibuster. Ballots are still being counted in the Alaska Senate race, and a Georgia runoff has been scheduled for Dec. 2.

Both campaigns praised the canvassing board’s decision to move forward with a recount.

“We’re very pleased with what happened today,” Knaak said.

Franken spokesman Andy Barr said the Democrat “has good reason to be thrilled about today’s outcome.”

Minutes before the state canvassing board was scheduled to meet, the Franken campaign asked the board to postpone finalizing the count until all the precincts were accounted for. The request followed a legal brief the campaign filed Monday to the board, requesting that rejected absentee ballots be considered in the recount.

David Lillehaug, a lawyer for the Franken campaign and a former U.S. attorney, asked the board to prevent the certification of the original Nov. 4 vote, ahead of the recount.

“These people are real people who did everything right,” Lillehaug said of the absentee voters whose ballots weren’t counted. “Can’t we all agree they should not have to start a lawsuit or wait for someone else to start a lawsuit for their vote to count?”

In some cases absentee ballots were rejected. The Franken campaign has filed suit to get access to those ballots and the reasons they were rejected by local election officials. A court hearing on some of the absentee ballots is scheduled for this morning in Ramsey County, roughly 90 minutes after the recount starts.

Coleman campaign attorneys Knaak and Tony Trimble, who also appeared before the canvassing board, said the Franken campaign tactics cast doubt on a process that worked.

“We are absolutely in agreement with the Franken campaign that we want a full, fair recount of — at least I hope they want a full, fair recount — of every vote that was actually, properly cast,” Knaak said. “If they weren’t properly cast for some reason then they don’t deserve to be recounted.”

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D), who is chairman of the recount board, has been attacked by Republicans who question his objectivity. Ritchie has insisted that he, and the full canvassing board, which is also composed of two state Supreme Court justices and two county district judges, has been completely impartial during the process.

Ahead of the recount, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) defended the board’s work on “Fox News Sunday.”

“In Minnesota we have a history of clear, transparent, accurate and fair and legal elections. That’s going to happen again here,” Pawlenty said. “The canvassing board is five people. They are invited by the secretary of state, not appointed by me. The governor doesn’t have a role. But it’s four judges, all of which have good reputations, and the secretary of state.”