Scott Wente, Published February 26 2009
More information about controversial ballots unfolds Thursday at Minnesota's Senate trialST. PAUL – There is more to the story of St. Louis County’s controversial 300 ballots.
Officials in the northeastern Minnesota county said today there is a legitimate explanation for at least some of the 300 ballots Norm Coleman’s campaign has described as “illegal,” and they are reviewing others.
Outside the U.S. Senate trial courtroom Wednesday evening, Coleman’s campaign showed reporters examples of 300 absentee ballot documents from St. Louis County. The documents – mostly copies of absentee ballot envelopes – lacked required voter and witness information, but had contained votes that were counted anyway in the Nov. 4 election, Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg alleged.
It is not that simple, St. Louis County election chief Paul Tynjala countered in an interview.
An initial review of three of those ballots, from Duluth voters overseas, indicates the voter and witness provided the required information and signatures, Tynjala said.
The confusion may have arisen because local election officials transferred those voters’ documents – a sealed secrecy envelope containing the ballot and a form with voter and witness information – from the envelopes they were mailed in to standard absentee ballot envelopes available at the county. That was done after county officials determined the votes should be counted, Tynjala said, and the new envelopes simply were used to keep related documents together before election night counting in precincts.
Coleman campaign attorney Ben Ginsberg described those 300 ballots included in the election night tally as illegal, based on a recent decision by the three-judge panel overseeing the U.S. Senate election trial about certain categories of absentee ballots that will not be reviewed in the trial.
Coleman’s Wednesday display may have included the transfer envelopes, not the actual ballot information, Tynjala said.
Coleman’s campaign used a data request to receive absentee ballot information from St. Louis County, but local officials may not have included copies of the forms properly signed by the voter and witness, Tynjala said.
If that’s the case, the county did not respond fully to a records request by the campaign, Ginsberg said today.
Tynjala said he was not aware the Coleman campaign used the St. Louis County documents in a news conference until he read media reports this morning. He was reviewing some of the Coleman examples today.
“We didn’t know it was coming,” he said.
Ginsberg said Coleman’s campaign used the St. Louis County examples because it expects Al Franken’s campaign to call St. Louis County election officials as trial witnesses next week.
Tynjala said he received a subpoena to testify, as did city of Duluth employee Jeff Cox and St. Louis County Auditor Don Dicklich.
Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or firstname.lastname@example.org