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Senate recount becomes a court contest: 'Let’s get it right,' says Coleman; 'Without merit,' counters Franken lawyer

Norm Coleman
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
Flanked by supporters, Norm Coleman today announces a formal Senate election contest.

Before you walked into the room, before you could push open the heavy door, it was clear this was not the time and the place for a concession. 

This was, it seemed, a campaign event in search of a campaign.

Perhaps 100 supporters -- some with signs reading, “One Person One Vote,” others soon to chant, “Norm, Norm, Norm” -- were gathered in the hallway outside of the State Office Building’s Room 181.

They would stream into cramped and hot 181, surrounding the gang of journalists.

Classroom-like, with about 20 chairs with swinging collegiate desktop arms, with U.S. and Minnesota flags at its front, Room 181 is the venue of choice for politicians, lawyers and activist groups making announcements, pronouncements and policy unveilings.

Senate election battle officially goes to overtime
Today it was where Norm Coleman – minus a Senate seat in Washington, D.C., an office in St. Paul, or a lead in the 2008 recount – took his election battle with Al Franken to the next level, into state court and, if need be, on a dual track into U.S. District Court.

Remember, one of Coleman’s lawyers is Roger Magnuson, the quick-on-his-feet Minneapolis counselor who worked on the Bush side in what we know as Bush v. Gore, the mother of all recounts.

Coleman, in talking to reporters and his fans on hand, said: “A six-year term is a long, long time. Crucial decisions will be made during that period on the economy, national security and the rights of all Americans. Minnesotans deserve a hundred percent confidence that their senator was fairly elected by the people.”

Later, he added: “We need to get this right for all of us.”

(Wait, maybe this was a campaign event.)

Marc Elias
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
Marc Elias, one of Al Franken's top lawyers, reacts to the news of a Coleman court challenge.

Still, later, away from the madding crowd, Franken’s lawyer, Marc Elias, said Coleman’s decision to wage an election contest was akin to Coleman “taking a very heavy rock and [trying] to push it systematically up a very steep hill. There simply aren’t the votes there.”

Indeed, in a 204-page document filed in Ramsey County District Court today, Coleman’s legal team generally kicks off the contest on the same issues it’s been highlighting in the recount: alleged duplicate votes, alleged missing ballots and a lack of uniformity in the counting of absentee ballots.

So far, before the State Canvassing Board, which on Monday declared Franken the winner of the most votes, and before the Minnesota Supreme Court, those issues haven’t stuck to the legal wall.

But Coleman’s lead lawyer Fritz Knaak declared today that this phase is different because evidence can be presented. In the contest phase – a full-blown civil trial – he will present, for instance, a witness that will testify to the reality of duplicate votes.

“The other side was calling this a fiction,” Knaak said. “It’s not.”

Elias reiterated today that there is no evidence of double counting of votes.

True legal election issues or ‘thin gruel’?
Standing somewhat subdued before a photo of Hubert Humphrey at DFL headquarters in St. Paul a few miles from Coleman’s earlier event, Elias labeled Coleman’s election contest assertions “the same thin gruel warmed over, leftovers, meals that we’ve all been served over the last few weeks … When you lose by 225 votes, you have to go mining for votes somewhere … Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Franken himself didn’t issue a statement. His spokespeople said he remained in Minneapolis as the other senators elected across the nation in November were sworn in at the U.S. Capitol today.

Coleman thus has moved his winter of defeat into, undoubtedly, a springtime of cross-examination, full employment for lawyers and journalists but, perhaps, a season of ennui among the general public.

Coleman refused today to accept Franken’s declaration of victory Monday, a victory in the recount of 225 votes.

“Until these issues are settled, any attempt to seat someone who is not properly certified ignores the law, violates Senate precedent and usurps the will of the people of Minnesota,” Coleman said.

But he acknowledged he’s not 100 percent confident that he’ll win the contest that Franken’s Elias called “without merit.”
“I don’t know what the outcome will be,” Coleman admitted of the contest. “It’s a lot closer than I thought it was going to be.”

Then, he added, without saying why, “I believe I’m going to win. I believe I won the election [on] Election Night.”

Coleman somber, says he never considered conceding
He was in a somber mood, the (former) (in hiatus) senator was looking a bit tired as he smiled now and then, his hair salt-and-pepper, his suit gray, his supporters, including state Republican Party chief Ron Carey, beaming at his decision to keep on fighting.

While he answered questions about the details of the contest and said he never considered conceding, a few troubling matters hovering above him didn’t come up.

For instance, exactly how he’s going to support himself during these months of legal hand-to-hand combat. The senator is not a rich man. And then there’s the nasty matter of reports that he’s under investigation by the FBI  for alleged gifts.

He did say that his statement soon after Election Night that Franken should concede was “a mistake.”

The contest filing came as former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson joined a chorus of those calling for Coleman to accept the Canvassing Board’s decision.

“While I understand there is a desire by a small number of people to simply move on, something greater than expediency is at stake here,” Coleman said  “As Americans, we believe that every valid vote should count and that everybody’s vote is equally to everyone else's … At this moment, I may not have a working office in D.C. or in St. Paul, but I still have my voice in Minnesota, and I certainly plan to use it.”

His passionate horde of supporters stuffing Room 181 seemed ready to vote for him again.

A few shouted, “Blame the media!” as the news conference wound down, and a few of them challenged reporters, “Look at Ritchie!”

 That’s DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who chaired the State Canvassing Board and whose office happens to be just across the corridor from Room 181.

Here’s what happens next
What’s next? Here’s the state law.

Briefly, it says the state Supreme Court chief justice will now appoint three judges. But Chief Justice Eric Magnuson late Tuesday decided to recuse himself from that role; he was a member of the State Canvassing Board, whose actions are now being challenged.

Associate Justice Alan Page will step in as the senior member of the Supreme Court.

It’s possible that Page could present a group of candidates to the two sides and each side will be allowed to eliminate judges they don’t like. That’s an option. But Supreme Court spokesman John Kostouros said no decisions on how or when the panel will be named have been made.

The trial will be held in Ramsey County, but the three judges need not be sitting Ramsey County judges. They can be from any county and even be members of the Court of Appeals, said Coleman lawyer Fritz Knaak.

Before all that, there will be a series of procedural motions filed, probably by both sides. And both sides will begin interviewing witnesses in the discovery phase before a trial.

Remember, Franken's side can raise some of its own issues, too.

That trial is to start within 20 days from today, on about Jan. 26.

Knaak predicted that a trial could last a month, meaning that March in Minnesota is sure to come in like a lion.

And meaning that Norm Coleman’s voice – behind 225 votes or not -- will continue to be heard.

Jay Weiner can be reached at jweiner [at] minnpost [dot] com. 

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Comments (5)

This is just rich. The man who did his very best to stop all the votes from being counted is complaining that not all the votes were counted. This man who used his veto power over wrongly rejected votes is upset that votes were vetoed instead of counted. He could have accepted Franken's offer to count all of them and neither exercise the veto.

Where is this evidence of double counting? Apparently it's too good to show publicly. If Coleman is serious that there was double counting, funny how he wants to count selected DFL precincts instead of the whole state.

Based on the picture above, the Coleman campaign couldn't have found a whiter, older, grumpier looking group of supporters if they tried. That picture speaks volumes about the (apparent lack of) future for the Republican Party.

Coleman, in talking to reporters and his fans on hand, said: “A six-year term is a long, long time. Crucial decisions will be made during that period on the economy, national security and the rights of all Americans. Minnesotans deserve a hundred percent confidence that their senator was fairly elected by the people.”

Yes, Norm, and every day you drag on your futile crusade to convince Minnesotans they still want you is another day Minnesota will only have half a voice in those crucial decisions. Thanks for ensuring Minnesota's under-representation during these critical times, Norm. That will be the legacy we remember you for.

It would be a great service to Democrats like me who didn't even support Norm when he was a democrat if Colemen would press on with this legal contest. It would suck even more Republican funding into pointless, non productive uses. It would underscore the image of Coleman as being fundamentally and reliably more interested in furthering himself than in serving the broad public interest. Finally, it might sufficiently alienate both Republicans and Democrats that, together with his other legal issues it would end his political career.

Unfortunately, it would not serve Minnesota well to deprive us of a 2nd senator. And it certainly would not serve the state or nation well to divert attention and creativity and resources from advancing solutions to the pressing issues of national security, addressing climate change and stimulating the economy. I hope our leaders exhert the discipline needed to NOT get bogged down in this relatively inconsequential matter while Rome burns.

You can really tell in here that folks want to move on. I can see that. What I don't understand is the the visibly changing numbers through all this mess that; to me strongly suggests that this election cycle was somehow bungled. If it were me, the car that had ballots in the trunk and were forgotten about, are now no longer in custody and can not be considered. Ever heard the expression; "Chain of custody". That got lost here. Too bad. But some people here took them in and considered them. This to me taints the election cycle and now I don't trust it at all.
Why bother with the courts. I say lets run off a new cycle to get it right. But the Franken camp wants nothing to do with that. He bought and paid for this and wants his certificate... Oh wait did I say bought and paid for... I meant he was duly elected... :-) yea; right. Lets do it again folks; this time, do it right.