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Scott Wente, Published January 12 2009

Senate recount: Voters surprised to be part of lawsuit

ST. PAUL – Norm Coleman cannot rely on Minnesotans Howard Hartmann and Nancy Carmichael to help him fight the U.S. Senate recount result in court.

Plucked from relative anonymity, the two voters are among dozens named in Coleman’s lawsuit challenging the election recount that gave Democrat Al Franken 225 more votes.

Hartmann and Carmichael voted for Republican Coleman, but their absentee ballots were not counted because of voter error, election officials said.

That was news to Hartmann and Carmichael, who said they did not know their votes were not counted, but that they want no part of the upcoming election trial that will garner national attention.

“I wouldn’t come back from Florida or back from Napa (Valley) to come to court, I can tell you that,” said Carmichael, a Stillwater retiree who said she votes in every election but is not overtly political. “I’ve got more to do with my life.”

Hartmann, an 88-year-old retired farmer from Crookston, said he wanted Coleman to win but could not appear in court if asked.

“That would be pretty tough on me,” said Hartmann, who noted that he voted absentee because he is disabled.

Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak said the campaign has not ruled out calling voters and local election officials as witnesses in a trial, but does not expect that to be a major part of the proceedings.

“There will be testimony, I can just about guarantee that, but the extent of that is not known,” Knaak said, adding that details about how the trial will proceed still are unknown.

In its recent court filing, the Coleman campaign included voters it suspects are among around 650 people whose absentee ballots were wrongly rejected and should have been counted.

But county election officials say their records, which the campaigns may not have had during the recount, clearly show some of those voters’ ballots were properly rejected.

That includes Carmichael’s ballot, Washington County Elections Supervisor Carol Peterson said. Carmichael submitted an absentee ballot envelope for the Nov. 4 election that included a primary election ballot instead of a general election ballot.

Carmichael said she could not figure out how that happened.

“I wish my vote had counted,” she said.

Hartmann said he has followed the unresolved Senate race closely because “that’s all I got to do now.”

“I didn’t expect my ballot would be thrown out,” said Hartmann, whose daughter helped him complete the ballot. “I figured we’d done everything right.”

Polk County Deputy Auditor-Treasurer Laurie Anderson said Hartmann initialed the back of his absentee ballot instead of signing his name. Poll workers rejected the ballot on election night because it wasn’t properly signed.

During the statewide recount, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered counties to compile absentee ballots they believed were improperly rejected and should have been counted. Hartmann’s ballot was put in that pile because officials thought it was rejected on a technicality, Anderson said.

The two political campaigns had veto authority over which rejected absentee ballots would be counted. Anderson said the Franken campaign rejected Hartmann’s ballot envelope, likely because of the signature issue, so it was not counted.

“I just want to see Coleman pull it out,” Hartmann said. “That was my man.”

As it prepares for the trial, to be adjudicated by three judges in a Ramsey County courtroom, Knaak said the Coleman campaign could ask voters and election judges to provide the campaign with oral statements, written statements or more formal depositions.

“It depends, really, on the individual ballot” being questioned, he said.

Franken campaign spokeswoman Jess McIntosh said their team’s attorneys were still reviewing Coleman’s initial court filing and would not comment on how it will prepare for the trial.

Many of the absentee voters whose ballot envelopes or applications are included in the Coleman filing are from areas of Minnesota where the former senator did well in the election. The campaign said that is a coincidence because the absentee envelopes are sealed, so the votes cannot be viewed.

Carmen Mancino was surprised to learn her vote was not counted in the election. The 19-year-old Stillwater woman, who goes to college in Chicago, cast an absentee ballot before Nov. 4.

Peterson, the Washington County election official, said Mancino’s ballot was rejected because she didn’t include a voter registration card.

“I’m sad that none of my votes counted,” Mancino said. “I was really excited. This was the first time I’ve gotten to vote.”

Mancino is among the absentee voters identified in the Coleman filing. That was particularly surprising to her because Mancino said she voted for Franken.


Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or swente@forumcomm.com