End near? Franken to rest in Minn. Senate case

Lawyers for Al Franken plan to call final witnesses Wednesday.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) âÄî Minnesota’s Senate saga will take a large step toward conclusion Wednesday, when lawyers for Democrat Al Franken plan to call their final witnesses. Their decision to provisionally rest doesn’t mean the seven-week trial is quite done. A lawyer representing individual voters who are trying to get their rejected absentee ballots counted has the right to present evidence. And Republican Norm Coleman, who brought the election challenge, can put on witnesses to rebut Franken’s case. “We’re not there yet because there are still those steps left,” said Franken lawyer Marc Elias. “But we’re ending what has been a very long post-election process.” Coleman lawyer Ben Ginsberg said the Coleman rebuttal case won’t be “terribly lengthy.” So barring unforeseen delays, the three judges could be deliberating by next week. Franken led Coleman by 225 votes after a statewide recount. The Democrat’s lawyers called 73 witnesses over the last week, mostly voters whose ballots were denied. Elias wouldn’t estimate how many new votes he believes they have proven. Coleman’s team spent more than five weeks putting on a case aimed at proving thousands of absentee ballots were wrongly rejected and hundreds of votes improperly went to Franken due to vote-counting irregularities. Ginsberg said Coleman’s attorneys have proven between 1,000 and 1,725 rejected ballots should now count, which is far fewer than the pool of votes they pursued when the trial began. Once the judges determine which candidate got the most legal votes, the loser has the right to appeal to higher courts or the U.S. Senate. Among other things, the three district judges âÄî Hennepin’s Denise Reilly, Pennington’s Kurt Marben and Stearns’ Elizabeth Hayden âÄî must decide: âÄîWhether to accept absentee ballots where the registration status of a voter’s witness was in limbo due to a move or name change. âÄîWhether a voter’s move between apartments in the same building required them to re-register before casting an absentee ballot. âÄîHow to handle absentee ballots where a voter’s signature appeared different from the one on their ballot application. The last question has come up repeatedly in recent days as the sides try to convince the panel to reconsider ballots that were rejected because of apparent signature mismatches. Coleman’s lawyers have given the judges 168 such ballots to examine, and have more than 300 more they’d like to introduce. Franken’s lawyers so far haven’t said how many on those grounds they are trying to convert into votes. The signature requirement is designed to guard against voter fraud by making sure the person casting the ballot is the one who requested it. Election officials compare a voter’s signature on the envelope that contains the completed ballot to the signature on the ballot application. It’s one of the most discretionary aspects of Minnesota’s election system. On occasions in court, the attorneys and those testifying pause to examine the markings on the signature lines. Was that an “M” or a “W” or maybe a “Th”? On the stand Monday, Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky said the signature element of the absentee process is a source of debate among his peers. “I would readily concede this is not an empirical activity,” he said. “It would be fair to say there are different views on how close is close enough.” Sharon Knutson, the city clerk for Brooklyn Center, testified Tuesday that she’s instructed poll judges to give some leeway. “Sometimes a voter is maybe elderly and they might shake a little bit and the signatures may not match exactly,” Knutson testified. Voters called to the witness stand are routinely asked whether the signature on the application and the ballot envelope are their geniune signature. Some admit they quickly scrawled their name on one form while taking more care when endorsing the other document. Jason Okrzynski, a voter from Waconia, was unapologetic about his mismatch. “I’ve been signing my name for about 27 years and I’m not sure I’ve signed it the same way once,” he said last week.