Judges rule Franken winner

Democrat Al Franken speaks Monday at a press conference at his home in reaction to the Senate trial ruling in his favor earlier in the day.

Democrat Al Franken speaks Monday at a press conference at his home in reaction to the Senate trial ruling in his favor earlier in the day.

After a seven-week legal battle, the three-judge panel in the Minnesota Senate recount trial ruled Monday that Al Franken is the rightful winner of the empty Minnesota Senate seat âÄî but the legal battles may not be over. Republican Norm Coleman plans to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, despite the unanimous ruling that Franken received the highest number of legally cast votes in the Nov. 4, 2008 general election. The judges decided that Franken won by 312 votes. âÄúItâÄôs time that Minnesota, like every other state had two [senators],âÄù Franken said Monday night at a press conference outside his Minneapolis home. The Coleman campaign must file for an appeal with the state Supreme Court within 10 days. “More than 4,400 Minnesotans remain wrongly disenfranchised by this court’s order,âÄù Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said in a statement. âÄúThis order ignores the reality of what happened in the counties and cities on Election Day in terms of counting the votes.âÄù In their final ruling, the judges also stated that the 132 missing ballots from a Dinkytown precinct should be counted. The Dinkytown votes were counted on election night, but went missing before the recount began. During the trial, Coleman’s team argued that since the 132 ballots were not present during the recount, they should not be counted. But the judgeâÄôs ruling found that there was no foul play involved and election night totals should be used, matching a previous ruling by the state canvassing board, Franken has been in the lead since the recount ended in January, and recently saw his 225-vote lead jump to 312 after the judges counted more than 300 rejected absentee ballots last week, at ColemanâÄôs request. Those ballots were determined to have been improperly rejected by election officials. Coleman now plans to appeal under the equal protection law, which states that all citizens must be treated equally by state law. He claims that the courts included votes it had found to be ‘illegal’ in the final counts from Election Day. But the judges ruled Monday that the Nov. 4 election was conducted fairly. âÄúThere is no evidence of a systematic disenfranchisement in the stateâÄôs election system, including in its absentee-balloting procedure,âÄù according to the official ruling. âÄúAfter seven weeks of trial, the factual record is devoid of any allegations of fraud, tampering or security breaches on Election Day, during the recount process, or during the election contest.âÄù Franken said that âÄúattackingâÄù the courts is not a winning argument for Coleman. Larry Jacobs, University of Minnesota political science expert, said time has almost run out for Coleman. Jacobs said there is a chance that the Supreme Court could overrule the final verdict, but said itâÄôs unlikely because the district courtâÄôs argument follows very closely on statute. ItâÄôs also possible that the federal courts could pick up the case, Jacobs said, but that is unlikely too as the federal courts generally defer to state courts. If an appeal to the federal court is made, it could take until this fall to seat a senator, Jacobs said. âÄúThis race is very important. The Democrats are within two votes of overriding the filibuster âĦ and getting one more would be really important,âÄù he said. âÄúThe stakes in Minnesota have tremendous national implications.âÄù Franken stressed the need to get a senator in office as the U.S. Senate gets ready to make major decisions on health care. âÄúThe campaign for this Senate seat has been long and expensive,âÄù Franken said. âÄúBut the fight ahead, the fight to rebuild our economy and repair our broken health care system and restore our standing in the world âÄî that’s a fight we must win.âÄù