Surrounded by cheering supporters, Republican Norm Coleman, who received 225 fewer votes than DFLer Al Franken in the U.S. Senate recount, vowed Tuesday to wage a court battle to challenge the outcome.
"Not every valid vote has been counted, and some have been counted twice," Coleman said. "Let's take the time right now in this contested race to get it right."
In deciding to fight on, Coleman rejected Monday's ruling of the state Canvassing Board, which certified the results that gave Franken the lead. The next phase of the dispute will take place in Ramsey County District Court, where Coleman will try to convince a three-judge panel that he was hurt by votes that were wrongly excluded and improperly included in the recount.
Coleman made his announcement at a news conference surrounded by a feisty group of supporters in a room of the State Office Building in St. Paul. When Coleman was asked whether he had considered conceding the race, the crowd shouted in chorus, "No!"
Later, Franken's lead recount attorney, Marc Elias, called Coleman's case "an uphill battle to overturn the will of the people" and said it raised no decisive issues. "It is essentially the same thin gruel, warmed-over leftovers ... that they have been serving the last few weeks."
Elias also said that the Franken campaign will use the court contest to raise its own questions about whether more ballots should have been tallied. The campaign has secured affidavits from several voters who said their ballots weren't counted, he said.
A trial is expected to begin within 20 days, and a Coleman lawyer said a decision may not be known until two months from now.
Coleman's decision to go to court came as pressure was building for him to concede.
Former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson said Tuesday that Coleman should consider bowing out.
"I don't think it's winnable," said Carlson, who served from 1991-99. He said contesting the recount results could hurt the Republican's image.
"I think there will be a tremendous amount of public anger, I think it will hurt his reputation," Carlson said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Coleman is "entitled to the opportunity to proceed however he sees fit. But for someone who's been in the trenches on a number of these elections, graciously conceding, like his friend John Ensign did, would be the right step. This can't drag on forever."
Asked about such comments, Coleman acknowledged "a desire by a small number of people to simply move on," but said, "Speed is not the first objective. Fairness is. ... We will not permit the full process to be shortcut. That would only cast greater doubt and uncertainty over the final result."
New range of issues
The Canvassing Board's work focused on interpreting voter intent on ambiguous ballots challenged by the campaigns.
But the court contest will examine a wider range of issues. Coleman's lawsuit says the Canvassing Board's rulings on ballot challenges were inconsistent, and that ballots were both improperly rejected and wrongly counted by local elections officials and the secretary of state to the advantage of Franken.
After Coleman's announcement, his recount lawyers Tony Trimble and Fritz Knaak released a 33-page summary of documents filed in Ramsey County Court.
The file includes dozens of copies of envelopes for rejected absentee ballots that the campaign says should have been accepted. Some went unopened even though they were marked "accepted," others were delivered to the wrong precinct, and still others were rejected over other clerical errors.
Knaak said campaign lawyers are in the process of conducting "a very real investigation," interviewing local elections officials and taking statements that can be used in court. He promised testimony about double-voting in some precincts.
Coleman claims that legitimate absentee ballots from Republican areas weren't counted, that some ballots in Democratic precincts were counted twice, and that Franken was awarded other votes for ballots that couldn't be found. When the Coleman campaign raised those issues during the recount, the Canvassing Board said they were better left for a court contest where evidence could be presented.
The claim involving absentee ballots contends that 654 were wrongly excluded by local election officials from the vote totals. Most of those ballots were cast in rural and suburban precincts favorable to Coleman.
The suit alleges that it is reasonable to believe that some of 933 absentee ballots that were considered to be improperly rejected and then counted last Saturday by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie were cast by people who also voted on Election Day. The 933 votes went heavily for Franken.
The suit says ballots were double counted in 17 Minneapolis precincts, which generally voted for Franken. In Maplewood Precinct 6, the suit says there were 31 more votes in the recount than voters in the election.
Elias dismissed the claims.
"When you lose by 225 votes, you have to go mining for votes somewhere," he said.
"We are on the precipice of the next phase here, where the Coleman campaign takes a very heavy rock and tries to push it up a very steep hill. There simply aren't the votes there."
Elias has called Coleman's claims of double-counting a theory in search of evidence.
Page to name panel
Under state law, the three-judge panel is to be appointed by the chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. But Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, who served on the Canvassing Board, recused himself. Associate Justice Alan Page will decide how to fill the panel, said court spokesman John Kostouros.
Coleman moved quickly Tuesday to satisfy a provision in the law that gives a candidate seven days after the Canvassing Board certification to file a court challenge preventing the governor and secretary of state from giving final approval.
Although Congress convened Tuesday, Franken didn't go to Washington because he understood the Senate wasn't prepared to seat him without an election certificate, campaign officials said. Under state law, that certificate can't be issued until the legal battle is over.
Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210 Kevin Duchschere • 651-292-0164