Experts dissect Senate contest

Political observers across the country have kept close watch on MinnesotaâÄôs U.S. Senate recount trial as it begins its second week of what could be a months-long trial. With the possibility for appeals from whoever loses the contest, the ordeal could last through even the end of March, David Schultz, who teaches election law at Hamline University, predicts. âÄúThis is the established process for how candidates can challenge the election,âÄù he said. âÄúFor a U.S. Senate race, this is exceedingly rare for this to happen.âÄù Contested now are the 11,000 rejected absentee ballots statewide, which Republican Norm ColemanâÄôs legal team contends were not handled properly in the election. The team had to subpoena the ballots , must convince the court they were wrongly rejected, and garner enough votes from them to defeat Democratic candidate Al Franken, who holds a 225-vote lead, Schultz said. âÄúFor Coleman to win this election,âÄù he said, âÄúheâÄôs got to win probably all of his legal arguments, and then hope that all those agreements translate into actually producing the votes he needs to win the election.âÄù The current election contest could take nearly 10 weeks to complete, Schultz said. Even then, further appeals to the Minnesota Supreme Court or federal courts could be in order. Sarah Cherry, an election law attorney at Ohio State University, said ColemanâÄôs basic argument takes its basis in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which promises equal protection to all U.S. citizens. In elections, this means all similar ballots must be treated exactly the same way, a point of contention in the current trial. For example, a ballot is cast from a person who includes his middle name in the signature on the ballot but not on the application to vote absentee. If one county accepts this ballot, it should be because the law requires every county to do so as well. âÄúIf they find an equal protection violation here,âÄù Cherry said, âÄútheyâÄôll basically be saying that local officials cannot handle their own elections because there might be some variation in how they do it.âÄù This controversy has its roots in a U.S. Supreme Court case âÄî the 2000 Presidential ElectionâÄôs Bush v. Gore. In that case, however, Cherry said Florida courts attempted to define how votes would be counted, but did a poor job. MinnesotaâÄôs state statutes do a good job defining how ballots should be counted, but Cherry said even specific standards can lead to difficulties. Schultz said the ramifications of Bush v. Gore have changed election contests from simply certifying the results and correcting possible math problems to raising a slew of equal protection claims. âÄúThe ghost of Bush v. Gore haunts the Minnesota Senate race,âÄù he said.

MinnesotaâÄôs sole senator

Meanwhile, Minnesota only has one senator. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, has the distinction of casting the only vote in MinnesotaâÄôs name in the U.S. Senate, but lacking a senator also puts Minnesota at a disadvantage in terms of committee placement and voicing MinnesotaâÄôs interests in legislation, University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson said. âÄúEveryone knows thereâÄôs only one Senator advocating for MinnesotaâÄôs interests,âÄù she said. âÄúKlobuchar can make the case that her voice should carry more weight in the policy-making process.âÄù Democrats in the Senate could choose to seat Franken before he is awarded an election certificate from the state, Pearson said. But that would likely be met with a filibuster from Senate Republicans, who last week sent Senate majority leader Harry Reid , D-Nev., a letter urging him not to seat Franken before election results are certified. As for the possible issues uprooted by the recount, Pearson said it gives the state an opportunity to fix problems in the electoral process. âÄúTo have over 11,000 absentee ballots not included is a problem,âÄù she said. âÄúAnd I think itâÄôs a problem that surprised many Minnesotans.âÄù