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Coleman, Franken joust ahead of critical election board meeting

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG
  • Star Tribune
  • December 16, 2008 - 9:14 AM

The campaigns of Norm Coleman and Al Franken resumed their verbal jousting this morning, jockeying for position on the eve of a potentially decisive meeting of the state's Canvassing Board.

A once-looming mountain of more than 6,000 ballots challenged by both campaigns continued to shrink, somewhat easing the primary task facing the Canvassing Board when it convenes Tuesday.

Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak said the campaign plans to whittle its pile of challenges to "south of 1,000." That followed the Franken team's announcement Sunday that it would present the board with fewer than 500 challenges.

That was something of a sideshow, however, to the campaigns' main point of disagreement: the Coleman campaign's weekend decision to go to the state Supreme Court, asking it to intervene on the issue of whether, and how, as many as 1,600 absentee ballots should be counted in the race.

During a news conference this morning, Knaak said the campaign is asking the court to instruct county elections officials "to step back and take a breath" until the court can develop a standard for evaluating and counting the votes.

Franken attorney Marc Elias countered that Coleman's case is a thinly veiled attempt to "stop the count ... let's just call it what it is."

Knaak added a wrinkle to the Coleman's team legal arguments, saying it will ask the canvassing board Tuesday to "ensure the concept of one person, one vote" by not allowing duplicate votes that were cast on Election Day to be counted more than once.

He said campaign officials believe "a couple of hundred" votes from locations he didn't specify were mistakenly counted twice on Election Night. Local elected officials created those duplicates after originals were misfed or jammed into voting machines, he said.

Initially, the campaign had planned to treat the issue of the duplicate ballots as part of its argument to the Supreme Court, but decided instead to present it directly to the Canvassing Board.

"We want to make sure they're counted just once where there are obvious duplicates," Knaak said, adding that the campaign's lawyers will ask that those particular ballots be treated collectively by the board.

Franken's campaign, on the other hand, is downplaying the importance of the duplicates it has challenged and is tentatively planning to drop them at the meeting Tuesday.

Elias said the Franken campaign is treating the duplicate ballots as part of "a sort of a potpourri" of hundreds of ballot challenges the campaign has issued that it will ask Canvassing Board members to reject en masse. Other such ballots included those with a disputed chain of custody or cases where the campaign believes its volunteers were interfered with improperly, he said.

Franken's campaign has not formally responded to Coleman's Supreme Court petition, but is planning to wait until the court issues its schedule order, Elias said.

Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

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