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Ramsey County officials must release to the campaign of Democratic Senate candidate Al Franken all written information it has on absentee ballots that were rejected or not counted, a judge ruled this afternoon.
District Judge Dale Lindman granted a temporary restraining order and injunction to Franken's campaign, ruling that the information Franken is seeking is "public data" under the state Data Practices Act and that it should be turned over to the campaign by the end of the day.
As it has with other counties in the state, the Franken campaign had asked Ramsey County officials for the names and addresses of those whose absentee ballots were rejected and the reasons why, if indicated. When Ramsey County officials denied the request, the campaign sued.
In his order, Lindman wrote: "The harm that [Franken's campaign] would suffer absent a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction far outweighs any harm to [Ramsey County]. With each passing hour, the Franken campaign is irreparably harmed in its efforts to ensure that each valid vote is properly counted and to prepare for the procedures that will decide this election."
The data to be released will not include information showing how each person voted, but only that information written on the envelopes in which the ballots are kept.
In this morning's hearing before Lindman, Franken attorneys argued that finding out why absentee ballots were rejected in Ramsey County is critical to convincing the state Canvassing Board to count improperly rejected ballots in the U.S. Senate race.
Attorney David Lillehaug stated that "irreparable injury" would be done to the Franken campaign if such information weren't made available. He pointed to a 2000 Minnesota administrative law opinion stating that information on challenged voters at the polls is public under the state Data Practices Act.
Darwin Lookingbill, assistant Ramsey County attorney, responded that absentee voting is not a right but a privilege granted by the Legislature, which set down reasons to reject absentee ballots but not to have them reviewed.
Lookingbill argued that, at most, only the names on those ballots that were rejected is public information under state law, and not the reasons for the rejection.
Sen. Norm Coleman's campaign was not a party to the lawsuit, but campaign attorney Fritz Knaak appeared and said the camp agreed with Ramsey County's position. "We view information on the envelope as information on the ballot," he said.
After the hearing, Knaak said he believes the Franken campaign would use such information to knock on doors of voters with rejected ballots and ask them how they voted. If such information was made available, he said, the Coleman campaign wouldn't use it.
Kevin Duchschere • 651-292-0164