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Senate recount/contest: Coleman’s team wants all 12,000 previously rejected absentee ballots re-examined

In a surprise move that would undoubtedly extend the election contest for the U.S.

In a surprise move that would undoubtedly extend the election contest for the U.S. Senate seat, Norm Coleman’s lawyers said minutes ago they plan to ask the three-judge panel overseeing the trial to re-examine as many as 12,000 previously rejected absentee ballots.

Tony Trimble, a member of the Coleman legal team, said that in his estimation, as many as 6,000 of those ballots may be subject to being opened and counted.

Fritz Knaak, another Coleman lawyer, predicted the Franken campaign might oppose the effort. That opinion was based on Knaak’s reading of an in-chambers session last Friday when this topic was briefly raised.

He said Franken lawyer David Lillehaug expressed “surprise” at the Coleman desire to dive back into all the wrongly rejected absentee ballots.

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Knaak sent a rhetorical shot across the bow: “The principle of every valid vote counting was convenient only when it supported their purposes for the Franken campaign.”

Franken’s campaign hadn’t responded yet when this Political Agenda item was posted. We’ll get their response as soon as possible.

Remember, absentee ballots can be rejected by law because a voter isn’t registered, or their signatures don’t match, or they voted in the wrong precinct or their return address on the envelope differs from the return address on the ballot application.

But thousands of ballots were rejected, some incorrectly by elections judges in the state’s thousands of precincts.

Here’s Knaak’s point of view: “Obviously, not every one of the 12,000 rejected absentee ballots was wrongfully rejected.

However, those that were – those that were rejected through no fault of the voter – and conform to the laws of this state as to voting requirements, voter eligibility and voter intent – we believe those ballots must be opened.

“In other words:  If the absentee voter was alive on Election Day, was either a registered voter or included a registration card with his or her ballot, and did not otherwise vote, then his or her absentee ballot should be counted — if the voter’s intent can be determined from the ballot.”

“This is about equal protection, so voters in every county throughout the state can trust that their ballot was treated the same as a ballot in another county … We don’t do so with the expectation that every vote will be a Coleman vote … We do so because every Minnesotan deserves the right to vote, and when they follow all the rules and cast a valid ballot, they deserve to have their ballot counted, and counted equally as every other ballot filed.”

(Note: These words could have been said two months ago by Franken lawyer Marc Elias during the recount phase. Indeed, they MAY have been said just about word for word.)

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The Coleman side is expected to file legal documents soon formalizing its comments in today’s news briefing.

A little history: Early in the recount, the Coleman side argued that certain rejected absentee ballots shouldn’t be counted until this post-recount phase. They argued that the State Canvassing Board was in no legal position to allow rejected ballots to be included in the recount.

The Franken side repeatedly said, “Count every vote.”

Eventually, the Coleman side sought “consistency on a statewide basis” in the methods used to count the previously rejected ballots; different counties decided on the status of these ballots differently.

The Minnesota Supreme Court – as the recount was under way — ruled that previously rejected ballots could be counted, but the court established an odd system that allowed either of the campaigns to reject certain ballots.

In the end, about 1,350 previously rejected absentee ballots were counted. That left thousands more uncounted.

Now that the battle is in a new phase, Coleman is re-raising the absentee ballot issue in search of votes.

Said Trimble: “We went back and looked at the other 11,000 [rejected absentee ballots] and convinced ourselves that there are many, many thousands, perhaps as many as 6,000 or 7,000 additional envelopes and ballots, that will be opened.”

Trimble wants the judges to “re-examine every envelope again … We have the right to bring these envelopes” to the three judges, he said.

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Tuesday marks 11 weeks since Election Day. A pre-trial hearing is set for Wednesday. The trial is set to begin Jan. 26.

This thing is far from over.