A long way from over

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT
  • Updated: December 18, 2008 - 6:17 PM

I didn't have to wait long. The state Supreme Court's ruling came shortly after my previous post. Would that the court had been as decisive as it was timely. Instead of issuing a clear "yes" or "no" to local election administrators on the question of counting improperly rejected absentee ballots, it came up with, in essence:  "Ask the campaigns what they think, and don't open a ballot unless both campaigns agree that it should have been counted on Nov. 4."

That decision came on a 3-2 ruling, with the two justices who serve on the Canvassing Board recusing themselves. The two dissenting justices were forceful in their opposition to the court's order. Justice Alan Page objected to empowering the campaigns to decide "on a whim" to refuse to count a ballot that local election administrators concede was mishandled on Election Day.

The high court's order seems likely to divide the estimated 1,600 wrongly rejected absentee ballots into two categories: those the Norm Coleman and Al Franken campaigns both want opened, and those that one or both prefer remain sealed. That division must occur by Dec. 31, the court said.

Bottom lines: The Canvassing Board won't be signing a certificate of election in this contest until at least Jan. 1. And the fight over rejected absentee ballots is all but guaranteed to be a topic of more litigation after the Canvassing Board adjourns. As long as local officials say there are legal votes uncounted, legal efforts to get them counted are well justified, no matter which candidate is certified by the board as the winner.

The 1962 gubernatorial race, Minnesota's closest statewide election, was not settled until a court acted on March 20, 1963. This Senate race might be on a similar timetable -- and could turn out to be even closer.

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