Editorial: A gracious finish to an epic drama

  • Updated: June 30, 2009 - 6:11 PM

Unanimous Supreme Court decision legitimizes Franken win.

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July 2009

Photo: Steve Sack, Star Tribune

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Al Franken received the most legally cast votes for U.S. Senate last Nov. 4. That was the unanimous word Tuesday from Minnesota's highest court, affirming the unanimous finding of the five-member State Canvassing Board and the unanimous decision of a three-judge trial court.

With grace and humility two hours later, Norm Coleman made the Supreme Court's word the final one in Minnesota's longest-ever election contest. To his credit, Republican Coleman recognized that Minnesota has waited long enough for the dual representation in the Senate to which it is constitutionally entitled. And, he rightly said, further litigation would widen a partisan divide that is already damaging Minnesota unity, "which is fundamental."

Coleman's concession, followed within minutes by Gov. Tim Pawlenty's statement that he would sign the requisite document certifying Franken as the election's winner, should lead to the Democrat's swearing in next week when the Senate returns from its holiday recess. For his part, Franken -- whose low-key demeanor over many months of uncertainty has served him well -- echoed Coleman's gracious tone as he vowed to wake up every morning of his term with a resolve to work "for all of you."

Tuesday's events were met with sighs of relief all over this state. It was a Minnesota-worthy denouement -- calm, civil, orderly -- to an epic political drama that riveted the nation's political establishment for eight months.

The national critics may have faulted Minnesota for a tedious, time-consuming process for deciding close elections. But they have to admire the result: a clear decision, arrived at with thoroughness and care, and with no evidence of fraud. That makes it possible it will be accepted by people of all political persuasions as the legitimate outcome.

The unanimity of Tuesday's ruling is particularly welcome -- especially from a court dominated by Republican appointees. It does much to assure Minnesotans who voted for Coleman or for Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley that Franken's 312-vote victory was determined according to impartial law, not partisan favor.

Coleman's case relied on a serious allegation of voter disenfranchisement that deserved high court review. He claimed that several thousand Minnesotans who did not meet the law's requirements for absentee voting nevertheless should have had their votes counted, because similarly flawed ballots in other counties were accepted.

That argument was addressed squarely in Tuesday's opinion, and found wanting. "Our existing case law requires strict compliance by voters with the requirements for absentee voting," the court's opinion said. "There is no basis on which voters could have reasonably believed that anything less than strict compliance would suffice." Only if that had been true would Coleman's claim of an equal protection violation been plausible.

Six long months have elapsed since the 111th Congress convened. The Senate stands on the verge of addressing issues of great importance to the nation's future -- health care, climate change, immigration, deficit control, the confirmation of an appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court. Minnesota's senior senator, Amy Klobuchar, has been an energetic and effective voice for Minnesota -- and was singled out for praise by Coleman yesterday. But as he acknowledged, two voices are better than one, especially in a body in which each state is entitled to two. In making that possible now, Coleman added to his record of service to Minnesota.

The Star Tribune Editorial Board supported Coleman's bid for a second term. But we admire much about Franken's values and his desire for public service. His pledge to go to Washington "not to be the 60th Democratic senator; I'm going to be the second senator from the state of Minnesota" was fitting. No senator in the 111th Congress brought to the Capitol a smaller mandate than Franken will take with him next week. We wish him well as he sets out to earn the trust of the all of the people of Minnesota.

  • BETTER BALLOTING

    Elections law scholar Edward Foley of Ohio State University said Tuesday that the Coleman-Franken dispute showed that Minnesota's absentee ballot requirements are old-fashioned and unduly strict. The Supreme Court seemed to agree in Tuesday's decision: "To the extent that this case has brought to light inconsistencies in the administration of absentee voting standards, we are confident that the appropriate officials in the other branches of government understand that efforts should be made to reduce those inconsistencies." A bill that would have simplified the process of counting those ballots was passed by the 2009 Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

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