It has been a battle from day one, at least from Nov. 4th when Norm Coleman and Al Franken went head-to-head in Minnesota’s 2009 general election. Now 312 votes and 198 days separate what was once an election that yielded Minnesota’s newest Senator from a never-ending discussion between Coleman and Franken and the seemingly endless Senator race.
While these politicians are arguing over absentee ballots and election certificates, is the state of Minnesota’s reputation being threatened by the never-ending arguments between Senator-hopefuls? Is this controversy in Minnesota threatening to mirror the Florida fiasco between Bush and Gore in the 2004 presidential election?
The Politico offset claims that Minnesota’s ballot recount is similar to Florida’s Bush-Gore recount in 2000, which stirred politics pot for months. In ruling against Coleman last Monday night, The Politico reported a three-judge panel made its view perfectly clear: This case is not Bush v. Gore, and Minnesota’s electoral process is nothing like Florida’s.
“The citizens of Minnesota should be proud of their election system,” the three judges wrote in a sweeping opinion that roundly rejected Coleman’s arguments. Unlike Florida in 2000, Minnesota has laws in place that spell out the procedures for a recount and set standards to help determine which ballots could be accept and rejected.
Regardless of Minnesota’s ballot counting system, the election was still ridiculously close in number of votes; therefore each candidate had the right to request a recount. What started off as an election that originally announced Coleman as receiving the most votes has now been turned into Franken leading the race by 312 votes.
While Franken comfortably claims what he assumes to be his latest title of Minnesota Senator, Coleman and co. are grasping at shirttails to find new lawsuits to file and ballots to claim as their own. In early April, after a three-judge panel declared 351 more absentee ballots as official votes, the majority of them in favor of Franken, Franzen’s attorney Marc Elias was pleased with the votes and declared Franken Senator and referred to Coleman as “former Senator Coleman.”
“Today is a very important step in that we now know the outcome of the election contest, which is the same outcome as the recount,” Elias said. “More Minnesotans voted for Al Franken than Norm Coleman. Nothing Norm Coleman can do in the courts will change that fact.”
But Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg, after the ruling at a press conference, said Coleman would indeed be appealing the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
“Today was good in the sense that 351 voters got their ballots counted, but we are saddened and disappointed that it was only 351. It should have been 10 times more than that,” said Ginsberg. “Because those voters remain disenfranchised… we will be appealing this to the Minnesota Supreme Court.”
Minnesota has four reasons for rejecting a ballot: the voter wasn’t registered, they failed to sign the ballot, their witness wasn’t qualified or they cast another ballot. Coleman is claiming that election judges were unfair in their ballot counting and that is why the lawsuits have ensued. “Applying the standard used on election night to all remaining rejected absentee ballots does not mean the court would be turning a blind eye to the statutory requirements,” the Coleman’s lawyers wrote. Instead, they said it would acknowledge that some election officials were looser in their application of state law.
While appealing the ballot count, Coleman’s administration has also been billed $161,510.63 in attorney and lawsuit fees. The state law on election contests requires the contestant (the person who was behind after the Canvassing Board recount, in this case Norm Coleman) must pay the expenses the contestee (the person who was ahead, a.k.a Al Franken) incurs in defending their case. This requirement applies if, but only if, the contestee wins the case, which Franken says he did, when The Three Judges of the Election Contest Court ruled that he, Franken, had received the most votes and was therefore entitled to an election certificate. Coleman says the case isn’t over until his appeal to the MN Supreme Court is over.
But what does all of this expensive and argumentative recount process mean for Minnesota? A new poll published in the Star Tribune found that a majority of Minnesotans believes it is time for Coleman to take a seat in the fight and Franken to take his seat in the Senate.
Comparing December 2008 surveys to the Star Tribune survey results released this week, both candidates have taken a beating to their popularity levels, 55 percent of May poll respondents saying they view both Franken and Coleman as “unfavorable” as compared to a much lower rate of dislike back in 2008.
A St. Thomas law professor, and writer for the Free Republic, calls the recount “off the tracks – and unconstitutional.” Quoting the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and the 17th Amendment, Michael Stokes Paulson deems the Minnesota recount “embarrassing for Minnesotans” but finds fault in the court systems for inconsistent vote counting.
“The standards for evaluating rejected absentee ballots likewise must be uniform, with decisions made according to legal standards, not by partisan campaigns. If, as appears increasingly likely, neither the contest proceeding nor the Minnesota Supreme Court brings Minnesota’ s recount into compliance with federal constitutional law, the federal courts may need to step in. The matter could go straight up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Just as likely, a local federal district court may be called upon to issue an injunction against an unlawful state recount process, just as the U.S. Supreme Court needed to pull the plug on Florida’s unconstitutional process in Bush v. Gore.”
Paulson is not alone in his growing tired of the constant political drama between Coleman and Franken, the majority of Minnesotans are also hoping for an end to this madness; their favor toward the politicians diminishing with each day the recount goes on. While pleading with Coleman to “give it up already” and Franken to reign as Minnesota Senator as the votes say he should be, the rest of Minnesota will wait for both the official and mandatory process of courts and recounts and also an adult politician to grow up and quit fighting a battle he’s already lost.
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