Mondale to start campaign

DFL officials sue state over the way absentee ballots will be handled

ST. PAUL (AP) – Just days after Sen. Paul Wellstone’s plane crash stunned the state into a political truce, the Republican and Democratic parties have already resumed wrangling.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale intends to appear before state Democratic Party leaders Wednesday to launch his campaign in Wellstone’s place, DFL officials said yesterday.

President George W. Bush is expected to campaign for Coleman over the weekend and one GOP source said polls taken in the days since Wellstone’s death show the race remains close.

The DFL sued Tuesday over the way absentee ballots will be handled in the race, arguing that anyone who has already voted should be able to get a new ballot.

The state Supreme Court ordered all parties to respond by Wednesday and scheduled a hearing for Thursday.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of DFL Party Chairman Mike Erlandson and two voters who will be out of the state on Election Day. It alleges that a process outlined by Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican, and Attorney General Mike Hatch, a Democrat, “may well disenfranchise persons who may cast those ballots for Sen. (Paul) Wellstone.”

Absentee votes for Wellstone won’t count for Mondale. Absentee votes already cast for Coleman will count toward his total.

Alan Weinblatt, a lawyer for the DFL, said anyone who cast an absentee ballot – either for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone or Republican Norm Coleman – should be able to revote once a new candidate is nominated.

As it now stands, people with unsent absentee ballots can either write in a name or vote in person at their polling place on Election Day. People who have already submitted ballots can go to a local election office and request a new ballot. But new ballots won’t be mailed out.

Gov. Jesse Ventura said he is prepared to make an interim appointment for Wellstone’s seat in the face of a lengthy court challenge to election results. Ventura said the appointment would ensure that Minnesota will have two votes in a lame-duck Senate session.

“I fully somewhat expect there will be litigation,” Ventura said. “I can’t see a way around this. And I think it’s going to come in the form of how the election is held.”

Specifically, Ventura questioned the fairness of how absentee ballots already cast for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone will be treated.

“It’s very difficult to say that it’s a fair election when they’ve already said that anyone that voted absentee with the name ‘Paul Wellstone’ won’t be counted, and anyone who voted absentee with the name ‘Norm Coleman’ will be counted,” he said. “That to me right there creates an unfair election.”

The DFL lawsuit seeks a court order under the state’s spoiled ballot provision allowing all voters to promptly receive a new absentee ballot if they want to make a change.

“They told us we’re ‘out of luck.’ It’s true we were out of luck last Friday when Senator Wellstone was killed,” Weinblatt said. “Why should we be out of luck on a continuing basis?”

Weinblatt added, “If it’s a nuisance to election officials, I’m sorry. Paul didn’t do this on purpose. Don’t stand in the way. Help us.”

The contest is seen as critical in control of the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control by a single seat.

Kiffmeyer couldn’t be reached through a spokesman or on her cellular phone. Hatch was reviewing the lawsuit, a spokeswoman said.

Almost 4.5 percent of those voting cast absentee ballots in 1998, the last nonpresidential election year.

Kiffmeyer and local election officials around Minnesota are still discussing how to count ballots next Tuesday.

The DFL lawsuit takes issue with vote-counting procedures already announced, including Kiffmeyer’s plan to have all Senate votes counted by hand. A hand-count could delay results of the race until late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

The lawsuit argues that a supplemental ballot for all voters could be prepared for machine counts.

Daily staff contributed to this report.