Senate trial slogs along

A Minneapolis poll worker had her testimony thrown out.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) âÄî The trial holding Minnesota’s second Senate seat in limbo stumbled along Wednesday, with clashes over evidence and witness testimony that pushed resolution to the weekslong case even further out. In a hard blow to Republican Norm Coleman, a Minneapolis poll worker who claimed to witness errors that could have caused double counting of votes had her testimony thrown out. She had supplied materials to Coleman’s legal team that weren’t given to lawyers for Democrat Al Franken, which the judges deemed a violation of civil trial procedures. Another witness, state elections director Gary Poser, was kept off the stand as attorneys argued behind closed doors over the admissibility of documents he could be asked about. He caught an afternoon flight to Orlando for an election officers conference and won’t be available to finish his testimony until next week. Coleman’s lawyers said it will be impossible to meet a Friday goal of finishing presentation of their evidence. It delays the timetable for Franken’s team to argue its case that the recount result showing him on top was valid. The disqualification of Pamela Howell’s testimony could have big ramifications. Howell, an acknowledged Republican who served as an election judge in Minneapolis, is the only Coleman witness who said she was present when duplicated ballots without proper markings were fed through counting machines. Ballots that are torn, smudged, crumpled or contain federal offices only are sometimes spit out by vote-counting machines, prompting local elections officials to fill out an identical ballot that can be fed through. They’re supposed to be marked with corresponding tags, such as “Original 7” and “Duplicate 7,” with the original versions placed in a sealed envelope. The statewide recount gave preference to original ballots because they were a truer reflection of a voter’s intent. But the number of duplicates and originals for some precincts didn’t match up. By counting originals without lining them up with corresponding duplicates, Coleman alleges some voters got two votes. Howell told the court of problems in the south Minneapolis precinct she oversaw as a head election judge. She testified that colleagues were feeding duplicated ballots through tabulating machines when one gasped. “‘Oh no! We forgot to label the ballots,'” Howell recalled the woman as saying. “We looked at each other and the thoughts ran through my head about what can we do to retrieve and label them or whatever. And at that point they were mixed up with the other ballots.” When the close Senate outcome triggered an automatic recount, Howell said she realized the unmarked ballots would be a problem because there would be more originals than duplicates. Howell said she contacted election supervisors in Minneapolis, tried to relay the story to the secretary of state and placed calls to the state Republican Party and reached out to attorneys for Coleman. “I was frustrated,” Howell said. In cross-examination by Franken lawyer David Lillehaug, Howell said she collected her thoughts in writing and gave copies to Coleman’s lawyers. But the Coleman team didn’t turn it over to Franken’s lawyers, who learned about it during the Howell testimony. After a recess, Judge Elizabeth Hayden ruled on behalf of the three-judge panel that Coleman’s lawyers didn’t abide by civil trial rules. That, she said, was enough to exclude Howell’s testimony entirely. The double-counting argument is an important element of Coleman’s case. He said Franken benefited from more than 100 votes from people who had two ballots counted. Coleman’s lawyers want the court to subtract the votes from Franken’s tally and reduce the 225-vote lead he had after the recount. Coleman lawyer Ben Ginsberg said there will be other ways to make the point. “The numbers will end up speaking for themselves,” he said. The stir over Howell upstaged the start of testimony by Minneapolis elections director Cindy Reichert. She is a key figure because her city was a flashpoint in the recount. Reichert was asked about efforts to locate a packet of ballots declared missing during the recount. To compensate for the 133 ballots said to be lost, the state went with Election Night numbers for the precinct. That decision kept Franken from losing 46 net votes. She will resume her place on the stand Thursday. Also Wednesday, the sides argued about a data request Coleman put to Minnesota county and city election offices for details about voter registration and rejected absentee ballots. Franken’s lawyers called the request an improper “shortcut” that would prevent their side from cross-examining the officials over what they submit in writing. Coleman lawyer Jim Langdon said the records request was done to speed the case along by sparing some elections officers the need to come to St. Paul to testify. Outside court, Ginsberg ramped up its criticism of a Feb. 13 ruling that limited the types of sealed absentee ballots Coleman wants counted. Ginsberg said if the same standards applied to ballots counted on Election Day more than 300 from St. Louis County, a Democratic stronghold, would be considered illegal.