Judges may add 5K absentees to Senate race

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) âÄî The judges in Minnesota’s Senate election trial threw Republican Norm Coleman a lifeline on Tuesday, opening the door to adding nearly 5,000 absentee ballots to a race that Democrat Al Franken leads by just 225 votes. It wasn’t an outright victory for Coleman, who had wanted the judges to look at about 11,000 such ballots. He also has to prove the absentees were unfairly rejected, and it’s likely that Franken would gain votes from the pile too. But his attorneys had said the absentees were the centerpiece of his court challenge, and they cheered the ruling. âÄúThis is a victory for thousands of Minnesotans whose rejected absentee ballots will now be properly reviewed in this election,âÄù Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said in a prepared statement. While the order limits Coleman’s field of potential new votes, it was many more than Franken had hoped. His attorneys had argued Coleman should be limited to about 650 âÄî the specific figure given in his initial Jan. 6 lawsuit. But the judges ruled that the Jan. 6 filing laid out additional categories of ballots that should be examined. The judges said they would look at two categories of rejected absentees: those where it appeared the voter had met the legal requirements and those where they might have run afoul of the law through no fault of their own. The judges arrived at 4,797 because that was the number Coleman said in a Jan. 23 filing met one of those two conditions. Ginsberg said the 4,797 ballots was always âÄúthe universe of ballots we thought should be examined because they are valid.âÄù He said they never expected the rest to be brought into the count, but âÄúwe were willing to bring them here so everyone could see that.âÄù Franken has his own pile of 771 rejected absentees he wants considered, but his lawyers aren’t expected to make his argument on those until after Coleman rests his case. Meanwhile, attorney Marc Elias said, âÄúWe’re prepared to go forward with the universe they’ve defined.âÄù Elias said he believed the judges would find that most of the 4,797 had been properly rejected. It’s not clear how the absentees will be examined. Ginsberg said Coleman’s lawyers are prepared to offer evidence on each one if necessary. In testimony at the trial Tuesday, Coleman’s attorneys sought to show that different Minnesota counties applied different standards to rejecting absentees âÄî the heart of their case in seeking a uniform standard on absentees. Kevin Corbid, who supervises elections in Washington County, said his county decided on absentees with the best information available at the time. But Coleman’s attorney, Joe Friedberg, highlighted an area where Corbid’s decisions appeared to differ slightly from his counterpart in a neighboring county. Corbid testified he didn’t make a special effort to accept previously rejected absentee ballots if he had reason to believe they were rejected because of mistakes by election judges. A day earlier, Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky testified he made a particular effort to remedy such mistakes.