Naming '08 Minn. Senate winner will take until '09 - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Naming '08 Minn. Senate winner will take until '09

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota voters won't know who won the state's U.S. Senate race this year, and it's looking more likely that the new Congress will be sworn in before the race ends between Democrat Al Franken and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman.

The state Canvassing Board on Tuesday scheduled a Jan. 5 meeting and its chairman said the panel's work could spill into Jan. 6 - the day the next Congress convenes.

Democrat Al Franken leads Republican Sen. Norm Coleman with an increasingly small number of ballots yet to consider. Franken finished the day up 47 votes, according to a preliminary report by the secretary of state's office. An earlier report by the office had placed the margin at 48 votes, but the Canvassing Board made one correction costing Franken a vote.

For the second time in two weeks, the state Supreme Court got involved in the election, this time hearing arguments over ballots Coleman's campaign claims were double counted.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said there is no way the board will certify a winner this year.

"We are not in any way guided by any Washington consideration, timeline," said Ritchie, a Democrat. "These folks have people's lives in their hands."

Coleman's campaign disputed the allocation of some challenged ballots and called some of the board's rulings inconsistent. It said correcting the errors would have produced a 49-vote swing in Coleman's favor.

Franken's campaign has also brought some potential errors to the board's attention, which it says amounts to 43 potential votes in the Democrat's favor.

The board will meet Dec. 30 to consider the allocation report.

In court Tuesday, Coleman attorney Roger Magnuson argued that dozens of voters in 25 precincts, mostly in Democratic-heavy Minneapolis, may have gotten two votes. They had ballots that couldn't be fed through counting machines, so duplicates were made by election judges. Coleman's team alleges that both duplicates and originals made it into the recount.

The campaign urged the Supreme Court to reconcile the number of voters with the number of ballots and disqualify ballots where there is a mismatch.

"This election will turn on double voting," warned Magnuson, no relation to the chief justice who recused himself in the case.

Justices repeatedly asked Coleman's campaign for hard evidence showing votes were counted twice. Magnuson said he needed a court order forcing the matchup of voter rolls and ballot counts to do that.

"You're asking for extraordinary relief," Justice Paul Anderson told him. "You're asking us to stop the Canvassing Board in its tracks."

Franken's attorney Bill Pentelovitch said that granting the Coleman request would force officials in all of Minnesota's 4,100-plus precincts to redo the recount. He said Coleman's campaign "cherry-picked" precincts in an effort to overturn rules it consented to before the recount.

"What they're really asking is to undo the rules under which this recount was done, and there will be chaos," Pentelovitch told the court.

Justices didn't say when they would rule, but election cases generally get expedited treatment.

Regardless of the outcome of that case, the vote totals could shift again when state officials open as many as 1,600 absentee ballots that were incorrectly rejected on Election Day. Franken's campaign fought for their inclusion, but it is anyone's guess how those votes will break.

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled last week that improperly rejected absentee ballots must be included in the state's recount. Under a proposal awaiting ratification, Ritchie said the board would count the ballots that recount officials and the campaigns agree were wrongly excluded from the earlier vote tallies.

But that process is also laden with problems. Under a Supreme Court ruling last week, either campaign can object to the counting of each of the absentee ballots. The ballot would be set aside unless the voter who is affected heads to court for an order to count it, Ritchie said.

The race was thrown into overtime because Coleman led Franken by a mere 215 votes after the Nov. 4 count of about 2.9 million ballots. That was well within the automatic recount law triggered when races are within one half of one percentage point.            

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)      

Powered by Frankly