Getting all lawyered up for Senate recount

  • Article by: KEVIN DUCHSCHERE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 12, 2008 - 2:59 PM

He's also expected to talk about the times and places for the Senate recount efforts.

The U.S. Senate recount will ensure a hectic holiday season for lawyers, scores of whom are expected to be deployed across Minnesota by the Coleman and Franken campaigns in the weeks ahead to monitor the counting and to prepare for a possible post-recount challenge.

Fritz Knaak, an attorney with Sen. Norm Coleman's campaign, said Tuesday that "perhaps 120 Coleman lawyers" may descend soon on each of the estimated 100 recount sites to be set up in each of the state's 87 counties and in large cities as the process gets underway next week.

Spokeswoman Jess McIntosh said that DFLer Al Franken's campaign is also busy assembling a team of supporters, volunteers and lawyers with plans to cover every recount site.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie will announce today which four judges will join him on the state Canvassing Board when it meets Tuesday to certify the official totals for the Senate race, a day before the recount is set to begin.

The unofficial lead held by Coleman over Franken remained at 206 on Tuesday, when government offices were closed for Veterans Day. It's not clear whether that margin includes votes from all the counties, which were supposed to certify their ballots by midnight Monday.

At a news conference, Knaak said that the Coleman campaign found it "somewhat disturbing and mildly amusing" that Franken campaign lawyer David Lillehaug sought to have 461 rejected absentee ballots considered before the Hennepin County Canvassing Board certified its votes Tuesday. The board rejected Lillehaug's request.

At the same time, Knaak said, the Coleman campaign has received dozens of calls from supporters reporting disturbing incidents of their own. He cited 100 votes that came in late for Franken from Mountain Iron, Minn., tabulated by a voting machine that stamped the corresponding tape two days before the Nov. 4 election. The campaign has requested copies of voting tapes and hand counts from across the state.

Not a Florida situation

Each campaign is doing additional fundraising to cover the costs of monitoring the recount, expected to run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Coleman campaign received one high-profile donation Tuesday: $5,000 from the political action committee of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who in a statement called Coleman "a proven, experienced leader."

Knaak denied that Republicans are laying the groundwork for a possible legal challenge following the recount, but he added that the campaign is concerned "there's a possibility of something going on" that could unfairly deny Coleman the election. What that may be, they don't know, he said.

One development that concerns the Coleman camp is the degree to which the senator's day-after-election lead, a narrow 725 votes out of 2.9 million cast, has dwindled by more than 500 votes since. Knaak said they don't buy the drift of votes.

"Usually it cuts both ways. ... The numbers tend to split pretty much along the lines you see in the general election," he said.

That hasn't always been the case. In 2006, Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Republican Mark Kennedy both lost votes, but Kennedy lost far more.

Each of the last three Minnesota Senate races has seen significant vote fluctuations between the first complete returns and the final official tally, even though the results of those races didn't change.

More curious -- and somewhat sinister, some Republicans believe -- is that out of 18 major statewide races since 1998, all but three saw vote changes benefiting DFLers. Hamline University political scientist David Schultz said that may have to do with absentee ballots, which are sometimes counted late and often used by very young and very old voters -- fertile Democratic demographic categories. "We don't have enough information," he said.

Joan Growe, who served as secretary of state for 24 years before stepping down in 1999, said she understands how shifts occur in the vote tally but wasn't aware the pattern seemed to favor Democrats. Growe, a DFLer, said it may well be a coincidence.

"We never did a study of that, never noticed that," she said.

But Growe said she is not concerned about the vote shifts. In her tenure as secretary of state, she said it wasn't unusual to get totals where someone forgot to add a number, transposed figures or neglected to add results from other precincts. In the larger counties some vote totals are phoned in, opening the door to more mistakes, she said.

"Regardless of who wins, my guess is that it's going to court anyway. People are setting a tone now that's only meant to set up the contest," she said, adding: "We can have some confidence in this system. We don't have a Florida situation."

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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