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An eye-glazingly slow day at the Coleman-Franken election contest trial…

An eye-glazingly slow day at the Coleman-Franken election contest trial…
By Eric Black

…And just my luck, it was the first day since it started that intrepid MinnPoster Jay Weiner couldn’t be there, so I drew the assignment.

Furrows that both sides had already plowed were plowed deeper today. Team Franken continued to try to show, voter-by-voter, till reeled the mind, that certain voters who tried to do everything right and probably did nothing wrong nonetheless had their votes disqualified. (Most of them had no idea their vote had been rejected until a few days ago when they received subpoenas to testify.)

By my count, 14 Minnesotans who voted absentee and had their votes rejected, took the stand to answer the same 10 or so questions (“yes, that is my signature; yes, I was over 18 at the time, a non-felonious Minnesota resident; yes, I was registered,” usually ending with “yes, it’s important to me that my vote be counted”). Most of these generated little controversy of pushback from the Colemanian side.

After the trial day, Coleman lawyer Ben Ginsberg allowed as how many of these were votes that Coleman has also sought to have counted. (The voters aren’t asked for whom they voted.) TheThreeJudges take it all in, but make no rulings, so we won’t find out until the end whether these 14 and others like them were counted.

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Meanwhile, Team Coleman argued for at least the second day in a row, that with each such documented instance, Franken reinforces the Coleman argument that the reservoir of votes counted and uncounted is full of errors.

Along similar the-election-is-full-of-errors lines, Coleman’s lawyers elicited testimony from Secretary of State’s Office Election Chief Gary Poser that the database of voter information maintained by the Secretary of State’s Office is imperfect and sometimes out-of-date. The import of this (which also builds on an argument that the Colemanites made yesterday) is that when the parties to the lawsuit have relied on the SOS data to determine whether voters were actually registered or not, they have received imperfect and sometimes out-of-date information. In his remarks to the media at the end of the trial day, Ginsberg said the evidence “puts what has gone on in the trial into the category of ‘temporary,’ rather than ‘definitive.'”

Ginsberg continues to be coy about whether this ultimately feeds into an argument for voiding the entire election and asking for a mulligan.
Another theme of the day was signature mismatch issues. Several of the testifying would-be voters were disqualified because county election officials concluded that the signature on their absentee ballot application and the signature on the ballot itself were not the same. The voters acknowledged that the two signatures looked quite different, but testified that they were both signed by the voter.

Why so different? The answers were generally a variation of “I have one signature I use when I have time to write legibly and a scribble that I use when I am in hurry.” I know this is true of me and I suspect many others. It’s one area that should be addressed as Minnesota seeks to improve its system based on the experience of this year. The signature match is an important safeguard against fraud, but the county officials are not trained handwriting experts.

At the end of the day, the Frankenites put Ramsey County Elections Chief Joe Mansky, one of the gurus of Minnesota elections, back on the stand apparently to repair some of the damage done during the recount/contest process to Minnesota’s reputation as having one of the best election systems of any state. Mansky pointed out that the number of problems was small compared to the total number of ballots, and paid tribute to the good work of local election judges.

During a process like this, it’s hard to resist the temptation to think that Minnesota’s system is pretty messed. But I agree with Mansky. The error rate is low, the officials work very hard, and the basics of Minnesota’s system compare very well to most other states. In today’s climate of political total war, when you get an important Senate race decided by a tiny margin, lawyers on both sides are going to train electron microscopes on every flaw they can find, seeking advantage for their side. This, too, is part of the system and I wish both sides would drop the rhetoric about how all the criticism (from the other side) is mean to Minnesota’s fine officials. It comes with the territory. If we’re going to be mature boys and girls about it, we’ll use this as an opportunity to improve the flaws that have come to light in our system, without getting an inferiority complex about it.

Franken lawyer Marc Elias said that he would file, Thursday morning, a motion to dismiss portions of the Coleman’s case. He wouldn’t preview the argument, but this much is obvious. Coleman’s side officially rested their case today. Elias will argue that Team Coleman failed to prove the basic allegations that Team C made in its original petition for an election contest.

The often-colorful wordsmith Ginsburg dismissed the threat with a bull metaphor, saying that such a motion to throw out the case after one sides rests amounts to a predictable “pawing of the ground and snorting of breath.”

Former Sen. Coleman was present for the morning court session, but not the afternoon.

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In other Coleman-Franken news, Franken appeared next door at the Capitol where he received an award and, as reported by the AP’s Brian Bakst , said of the contest: “We’re taking this one step at a time, but I anticipate that we’re going to be happy with the court decision.”

And the Washington newspaper “The Hill” quoted AFL-CIO officials who believe that Franken represents the needed 60th vote in the Senate for the hot potato “Employee Free Choice Act,” which will make it easier for workers to unionize. Stopping that bill is a top priority for business lobbies, which advertising heavily against candidates, including Franken, who were pledged to support the bill.