Senate trial down to final phase

The seven-week-old trial should be in judges’ hands early next week.

Testimony in the long-running Minnesota Senate trial headed for completion Thursday, meaning the case should be in the judges’ hands early next week. Republican Norm Coleman started his rebuttal case even before Democrat Al Franken finished calling his own witnesses. Two more Franken witnesses and one for Coleman were expected to round out the seven-week-old trial on Thursday afternoon. The three judges in the case limited the scope for Coleman’s rebuttal in a ruling from the bench earlier Thursday. They prevented him from delving into the reliability of the statewide voter registration database because it went outside the confines of his lawsuit. Recently, Coleman’s lawyers have criticized the database as being inaccurate and incomplete. Both sides have consulted it to determine the eligibility of both absentee voters who had their ballots rejected and the witnesses for those voters. Despite the ruling, Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg insisted his client had put enough votes in play to erase the 225-vote advantage Franken built up during a hand recount of 2.9 million ballots. “At the end of the day, if the court is about enfranchising voters as opposed to sticking up for a (voter registration) system that is not yet complete, there will be more than enough votes that we want to put in to overtake the lead,” Ginsberg said. On Wednesday, his side gave the court a list of 1,359 names of voters whose absentee ballots may have been rejected in error. Franken lawyer Marc Elias said his team analyzed the Coleman list and whittled it down to six instances where all of the vital elements of a valid vote were proven. Franken’s side has pushed for the inclusion of hundreds of uncounted ballots as well. The court also heard from a group of voters independently pushing to have their rejected ballots counted. All are represented by Minneapolis attorney Charlie Nauen, who has already persuaded the court to count 35 new votes belonging to Franken backers. White Bear Lake retiree Catherine Brigham was among a few who took the stand Thursday. She maintained she was properly registered, filled out all of the required paperwork for an absentee ballot and didn’t cast another ballot on Election Day. Upon learning in early November that her ballot had been rejected for lack of proper registration, Brigham said she reached out to anyone she could to plead her case, including Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. “I felt really cheated,” she said. Another voter, Dennis Erickson of Plymouth, told the court he voted absentee and was in Brainerd on Nov. 4. His ballot was rejected on the grounds he showed up in person at the polls to cancel out his earlier ballot. “There are two other Dennis Ericksons in Plymouth. What they were up to I do not know,” he said. Nauen pushed to erase any doubt. “Are you trying to vote twice?” “No,” Erickson said without hesitation. Once they hear closing arguments âÄî either Friday or Monday âÄî the judges are likely to need several days to reach a decision on which ballots to open and, ultimately, which candidate got the most votes. They have heard from more than 100 witnesses and received dozens of thick binders of evidence during trial. The loser can appeal the court’s verdict directly to the state Supreme Court.