The U.S. Senate recount trial moved out of the courtroom and squarely into the court of public opinion Thursday, as state DFL and Republican leaders aired plans to build public pressure to force concessions by the other party's candidate.
At a Capitol news conference, state DFL Chair Brian Melendez announced a new website, GiveitupNorm.com, that features a video urging Republican Norm Coleman to drop further legal challenges in the race and provide Minnesota "equal representation in Washington."
The website also offers a petition asking Coleman to "concede to Al Franken the election you lost fair and square."
Not to be outdone, state GOP Chairman Ron Carey held his own news conference to call on DFLer Franken to join Coleman in asking the trial judges to reconsider counting 4,400 absentee ballots that they passed on before allowing 351 to be tallied on Tuesday.
And Carey announced a petition of his own on MnGOP.com that encourages Coleman to "keep on fighting."
The 351 ballots that were counted Tuesday broke decisively for Franken, increasing his lead over Coleman from 225 votes to 312 out of 2.9 million cast in the Nov. 4 election.
The judges haven't yet rendered a final trial verdict, but Coleman attorneys say they expect to lose and plan to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Running out of patience
Melendez said he is willing to accept a Coleman appeal to the state Supreme Court. What concerns him, he said, is that Coleman hasn't ruled out taking the case to federal court, which could delay the seating of a second Minnesota senator in Washington indefinitely.
"Minnesota has gone nearly 100 days without equal representation in the Senate. It's time for Norm to give it up," Melendez said. "He had every opportunity to show that he didn't lose the election and he has failed at every turn. ... At some point, Coleman must put Minnesota's interest before his own. We're there now."
Melendez said public opinion is turning against Coleman, citing editorials from pro-Coleman newspapers, a National Review commentator and even former Republican Sen. Dave Durenberger. If Coleman doesn't concede, Melendez said, he will be finished politically in Minnesota.
Carey countered with his version of the DFL motto: "All votes count, only if all votes are for Al."
Carey also said the race isn't over, despite what the DFL says.
He said it won't be clear who really won unless the judges apply the same legal standard to all absentee ballots. To do that, he said, they need to put back into the hopper 4,400 ballots that were thrown out as a result of an order they issued Feb. 13.
Coleman lawyers have said the Feb. 13 order set a stricter standard for counting votes than that used by most counties on Election Day. It's a matter of upholding a voter's equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution, Carey said.
"When the remaining 4,400 ballots are opened and counted and every voter is enfranchised, there will be no question as to who won this election," he said.
Senate Minority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, who joined Carey, said it's not fair to have "87 different versions of handling absentee ballots," referring to the state's 87 counties. To change that, he said, county election judges need to be better educated. "I don't think we need to centralize [statewide elections] at this point," he said. Kevin Duchschere • 651-292-0164