Coleman Files Another Lawsuit as Recount Nears Deadline

Posted December 31, 2008 at 6:59pm

In the final hours of the calendar year, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court to stop the sorting of improperly rejected absentee ballots and to centralize the process for counting those ballots.

This is Coleman’s third lawsuit in the Senate race recount, in which he currently trails comedian Al Franken (D) by 49 votes with about 1,350 recognized rejected absentee ballots yet to be added to the final tally.

Coleman’s motion for emergency order claims the process is not streamlined across the state, and that county officials are applying different standards to determine whether a previously rejected absentee ballot should be counted.

“In order to remedy the defects in the process, Petitioners request that this Court enter an order requiring that local election officials convey all absentee ballots identified by any party as having been wrongfully rejected to the Secretary of State’s office for a uniform review by the parties,” reads the petition.

A state Supreme Court order from mid-December required that both campaigns and local officials agree on a set of wrongfully rejected absentee ballots that would be submitted to the state canvassing board by 11:59 p.m. on Friday.

While Franken’s campaign mostly agreed with local officials’ list of about 1,350 wrongfully rejected absentee ballots, Coleman’s attorneys suggested that only about half that list should be counted, and they requested that another about 600 absentee ballots be added to the list. The secretary of state’s office responded by saying that according to the original Supreme Court order, because both campaigns could not agree on any additional ballots, local officials should begin to sort the set of 1,350 ballots.

“The Office of the Secretary of State has been working closely with the Coleman campaign, the Franken Campaign, and local election officials to implement the Supreme Court’s order to count wrongly rejected absentee ballots by Jan. 4, 2009,” the Minnesota secretary of state’s office said in a statement in response to Coleman’s lawsuit. “This process, now 90 percent complete, was agreed upon by both campaigns, local officials, and the Secretary of State on the afternoon of December 24, 2008. We look forward to the completion of the State Canvassing Board’s work next week.”

In a conference call with reporters on Dec. 31, Franken recount attorney Marc Elias called Coleman’s lawsuit the “height of chutzpah” and accused his campaign once again of suing to halt the recount.

“I think there is a harm to the state of Minnesota if this process is re-opened,” Elias said. “If this process can be revisited every time one candidate decides at the end of it that they will not prevail, then it will never end.”

If Coleman still trails at the end of the recount, his attorneys have vowed to file a lawsuit with the state to protest so-called “double voting” that they estimate benefited Franken about 110 votes, among other issues. Given the timetable for the state canvassing board and ongoing legal proceedings, it is nearly impossible that Minnesota will be able to seat a second Senator when Congress returns next week.