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Norm Coleman listens to testimony during Tuesday's Senate recount trial.

Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

Coleman wonders if judges can find a winner

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE and KEVIN DUCHSCHERE
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • March 4, 2009 - 11:25 AM

Norm Coleman said Tuesday that the three judges hearing the U.S. Senate recount trial will have to ponder whether they'll be able to decide who won the election.

Coleman, a Republican, questioned whether the panel will be able to certify him or DFLer Al Franken as the candidate with more legitimate votes. "I think the court is going to have to reflect on that," Coleman said during a break in the trial, which is in its sixth week as he challenges recount results showing Franken ahead by 225 votes.

Coleman's team finished its side of the case on Monday -- the same day that Coleman attorney James Langdon wrote the judges to suggest that problems with the election were so serious that the panel may not be able to declare a winner. Franken's campaign began presenting its case on Tuesday in the St. Paul courtroom.

Asked about Langdon's letter, Franken attorney Marc Elias said during a midday break that there was "no precedent ... in Minnesota that would suggest that one could simply start over again."

He also dismissed the Coleman claim that varying practices by counties led to similar ballots being counted and rejected in different places. "We believe the evidence will show that the counties did a good job," Elias said.

Elias has said, and the court has concurred, that there has been no evidence of fraud or systemic problems in Minnesota's election system.

Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said Tuesday that the campaign wasn't calling on the court to order a new election but to reverse its Feb. 13 order limiting the number of rejected absentee ballots that might be counted. Having more ballots considered is a key part of Coleman's effort to reverse the outcome.

Franken side calls witnesses

Franken's lawyers called 23 voters to testify Tuesday along with state elections director Gary Poser, who was questioned about the accuracy of the state's voter registration database.

Several absentee voters called by Franken had their ballots rejected because election officials decided their signatures didn't match those on absentee ballot applications.

Fredrick Amara of Burnsville confirmed that a pair of supposedly mismatched signatures were his and said he was rushed when he signed one of the documents.

"This ballot should be opened and counted," said Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg. It was among several ballots cast by Franken witnesses that Friedberg agreed to count.

Longtime voter Raymond Kocisko, a resident at an assisted-living home in Minneapolis, said he wasn't told he had to re-register because he had moved from one floor to another. He had his ballot rejected. "I would like it to be counted," he said.

Friedberg established that at least seven of the witnesses had their ballots rejected because of mistakes in the secretary of state's voter registration website, as he sought to reinforce his theme that official errors denied many votes.

Franken's lawyers showed a 40-minute DVD on election training that the secretary of state's office sent to counties around the state, seeking to underscore the DFLer's point that statewide election workers were drilled in using the same methods.

The Franken campaign is seeking to have the court accept some 800 absentee ballots, many from Democratic-leaning districts, that it believes were wrongly rejected. The Coleman list of such ballots numbers more than 2,000, many of them from Republican-leaning areas.

Elias said his side would call more voters and county election officials to testify, but do it in less time than Coleman took. "This case is going to move briskly," he said.

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

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