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Spending on Coleman-Franken race keeps rising

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE and K EVIN DUCHSCHERE
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • February 2, 2009 - 11:05 PM

As the U.S. Senate recount trial began its second week Monday, it became clear that the nation's most expensive Senate race has turned into one of the most costly recounts in memory.

Reports in recent days show that while election officials were reviewing ballots from late November through December, Republican Norm Coleman and DFLer Al Franken raised millions to fuel the postelection battle.

Meanwhile, in court Monday, the Franken legal team elicited testimony seeking to reinforce its themes that elections can't be perfect and that anti-fraud rules need to be enforced.

The message aims to counter the Coleman side's suggestion that the court should give the benefit of the doubt to well-intentioned voters and count many flawed ballots that were rejected.

On the financial front, reports show that from Nov. 25 through Dec. 31, Franken raised $3 million. Nearly $1 million came through the Franken Recount Fund, while the rest was received by his campaign committee. Federal rules allow campaigns to use their own funding for a recount effort.

In that same period, Coleman raised $1.7 million. About $460,000 was raised by the Coleman Recount Committee, while his campaign committee took in $1.2 million.

But Coleman had more money in the bank as of Dec. 31: $2.2 million, compared with Franken's $1.4 million.

Ballot merits

In court Monday, there was more testimony from Ramsey County Elections Director Joe Mansky, who had said Friday that local officials make mistakes that result in valid ballots being disqualified.

Lawyers for Coleman, who is challenging Franken's 225-vote lead in the recount, used Mansky's testimony to underscore their case that 11,000 rejected absentee ballots should be reviewed and counted if they were mistakenly rejected.

But under questioning Monday by Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton, Mansky confirmed that Coleman representatives had blocked the counting of several absentee ballots that Ramsey County officials had found to have been wrongly rejected in their initial processing.

Hamilton was trying to establish that Coleman's camp reversed its thinking about counting improperly rejected absentee ballots only after Franken took the lead in the recount.

In an interview, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann said the Franken campaign vetoed more absentee ballots statewide than did Coleman. In Ramsey County, Franken's team also rejected more absentee ballots than Coleman, Mansky said.

In court, the Franken team made the case that the rules must be considered when judging the validity of an absentee ballot. In questioning Mansky, Hamilton noted a state law requiring that signatures on envelopes for absentee ballots be genuine.

Hamilton asked Mansky about a voter, called by Coleman last week as a witness, who said his girlfriend filled out an application for him and signed his name. But the voter said in court that he did fill out the actual ballot and that his vote, which was rejected, should be counted.

"It's not proper to have your girlfriend fill out the ballot application?" Hamilton asked.

Mansky said it is not, and he added that a computer-generated signature on another application didn't meet the state standard.

Franken's lawyers also pressed the point that election judges can work 15-hour days and errors are to be expected in any election.

Mansky also acknowledged that judges sometimes forget to feed duplicates of damaged absentee ballots into voting machines, leaving more original ballots tallied in a recount than on Election Day. The testimony offered an alternative explanation to Coleman's contention that excess ballots in Minneapolis precincts in the recount indicate votes were counted twice.

Coleman legal spokesman Ben Ginsberg said later that Mansky's testimony underscored Coleman's contention that numerous absentee ballots were wrongly rejected and remain uncounted and that different standards were used in determining whether to count them.

pdoyle@startribune.com • 651-222-1210 kduchschere@startribune.com • 651-292-0164

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