Coleman: Determining Sen. winner may be impossible

Coleman said judges might need to think about tossing out results entirely.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) âÄî Former Sen. Norm Coleman on Tuesday said it may not be possible for a court to determine who won Minnesota’s disputed U.S. Senate election, and judges may need to “think about” tossing the results out entirely. Lawyers for Democrat Al Franken, who leads Coleman by 225 votes after a statewide recount, ridiculed the idea of voiding the election. Nationally, the Senate Democratic campaign arm hammered Coleman as trying “to pretend the election never happened” because he remains behind in the count. Speaking during a break in the trial of his election lawsuit, the Republican said he’s not sure how the court can certify a winner when “the number of illegal ballots may far exceed the difference between the candidates.” Coleman’s comments came after his lawyers wrote to the judges a day earlier to raise the possibility of setting aside the election. “In the end, I do think that’s something that folks will have to think about,” he said. Whether the judges could do that is an open question. Franken’s campaign submitted its own letter saying the court lacks the authority to make such a ruling. Outside court, Franken lawyer Marc Elias more strongly condemned the suggestion. “There is no precedent, there is no law, there is no statute, there is no rule in Minnesota that would suggest that one could simply start over again,” Elias said. Coleman lawyers say the Minnesota case itself is unprecedented and may require an innovative solution to deal with vote-handling disparities that have come to light during trial. “This is an unprecedented and fatally muddled situation,” adviser Ben Ginsberg said. “The problem gets deeper and deeper every time we turn around.” Coleman’s lawsuit aims to overturn Franken’s lead, making various claims that some votes were counted that shouldn’t have been and some ballots that were rejected should have counted. Franken’s lawyers began presenting their case Tuesday, summoning a stream of absentee voters whose ballots were turned away on or before Election Day. The 23 voters moved one at a time to the front of the courtroom âÄî many in jeans or khakis, a few in pressed suits and one in a nursing uniform âÄî and sat for five to 10 minutes of questions each about their eligibility and steps they took to vote. None were asked whom they voted for, but all were asked how they got their ballot and what they did before submitting it to their local election officials. There was Fredrick Amara, a first-time voter from Burnsville who proudly flashed his blue voter registration card. He explained why the signatures on his application and absentee envelope appeared dissimilar, the reason officials gave for rejecting his ballot. One, he said, was his “hurry-up” signature. Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg gave Amara what he was after, telling the court: “Your honors, this ballot should be opened and counted. We agree.” Three others got similar clearance from Friedberg. The rest were left at the mercy of the judges. That included Anthony and Rachael Seeley, husband-and-wife witnesses from Robbinsdale who handed off their baby as they rotated to the witness stand. Both applied for absentee ballots at the urging of the Republican National Committee, but both got “non-registered voter” packets even though both said their registration should have never been in question. Anthony Seeley said he’s sure he did all that was asked of him. “I remember being extremely meticulous about doing this,” he said. Ginsberg said the Franken witnesses underscored a point his team has tried to make. He said the testimony showed the state database for tracking voter information contains flaws that can cost people their votes. He added that some ballots already counted were cleared using a lower threshold than the court is requiring of ballots it is considering. In some cases, the required witness for an absentee voter was flagged as being unregistered. It’s the technicality that sidelined the ballot of Jason Okrzynksi, who brought a roar of laughter to the courtroom by advising lawyers his name rhymed with “Oprah Winfrey.” A co-worker served as his witness. “On the day in question when I asked her to witness, I asked her twice if she was a registered voter and both times she answered ‘Yes.’ I took her at her word,” Okrzynski said. It turns out the co-worker moved between this election and the last one and didn’t register at her new address until Election Day. The campaigns are awaiting word from the judges on when people become registered or their registration is considered lapsed. Franken’s campaign plans to call more voters to testify over the next couple of weeks; during the five weeks of his case, Coleman elicited testimony from more than 20 voters.