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Scott Wente, Published February 26 2009

Weeks of Senate recount trial remain

Coleman’s side close to wrapping up its case

ST. PAUL – Norm Coleman’s campaign said it is close to wrapping up its case in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate election trial.

That means this trial, nearing the end of its fifth week, is almost over, right?

Not quite.

Coleman’s campaign has spent 23 days trying to convince a three-judge panel that the Senate recount results giving Democrat Al Franken a 225-vote victory were flawed and ballots remain to be counted.

Outside the courtroom Wednesday evening, Coleman’s campaign used copies of 300 St. Louis County absentee ballots to argue that there were votes counted on Election Night that would be illegal under a recent decision by the trial judges.

It was an attempt to illustrate an issue the Coleman campaign has tried to raise for the past week – that the court should reconsider its ruling excluding some types of uncounted ballots from the trial – but that the judges so far have rejected.

A few more days will be needed for the campaign to complete its case.

“I don’t think it’s going to get done this week,” Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said Wednesday of his team’s case. He pointed to Monday as when the former Republican senator’s team will wrap up.

Then Franken’s attorneys will present their case. But Franken attorney Marc Elias said his team will use less time to argue its case.

Even then, the trial may not be complete.

The three district judges hearing the case – Kurt Marben of Pennington County, Denise Reilly of Hennepin County and Elizabeth Hayden of Stearns County – have indicated they plan to open and count some absentee ballots.

The judges have not said when that will occur, but that could require additional time, as counties will have to send the sealed ballots to St. Paul for counting.

While the trial could end within several weeks, the election may not be resolved. The campaign that loses the trial could appeal the judges’ decision to the state Supreme Court. A federal case also is possible.

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