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Brian Bakst, Published March 04 2009

Franken confident he'll win Minnesota Senate trial, rips Coleman

ST. PAUL (AP) – Democrat Al Franken expressed confidence Wednesday that he’ll win the Minnesota Senate election trial, but he declined to rule out an appeal if he doesn’t.

Franken spoke briefly with reporters at a Capitol awards ceremony staged by blind and deaf Minnesotans, while the trial continued in a courtroom about a block away. He sidestepped a question about possible appeals, just after ripping Republican Norm Coleman over the way he’s conducted a lawsuit challenging Franken’s post-recount lead.

“We’re taking this one step at a time, but I anticipate that we’re going to be happy with the court decision,” Franken said.

Of Coleman’s case, Franken said his opponent “has chosen to attack the Minnesota court system, to attack the elections officials and to try to erase Minnesota voters’ votes. I know he’s disappointed, but we’ve come through a fair election, a fair and very meticulous recount and we’re going through now a very fair court challenge. I think it’s time now that we address the people’s business.”

It’s been four full months since voters went to the polls on Election Day and created a margin so narrow in the Senate race that it triggered an automatic recount.

In his own comments to reporters on Tuesday, Coleman raised doubts about the ability of the three-judge panel to determine who won the election. “Clearly there is a question about whether this court can certify who got the most legally cast ballots,” he said.

After the recount, Franken leads by 225 votes. Coleman’s legal challenge is primarily focused on rejected absentee ballots. He is also trying to wipe out some Franken votes attached to alleged counting irregularities.

Coleman rested his case on Monday, and Franken’s lawyers have used their first two days eliciting testimony from absentee voters whose ballots were rejected.

On Wednesday, Richfield voter Kathleen Awes described how she cast her absentee ballot using the address she’s lived at for 12 years. The possible glitch was her move to a new apartment in the same building, but she testified that she filled out a new registration card, holding her thumbs apart to illustrate its size.

Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg informed Awes on cross-examination that lack of proper registration led to the rejection. She told him she may have put it in the inner secrecy envelope containing the actual ballot, a place election officials might not have looked.

“Will my vote be counted?” Awes asked Friedberg as she was excused.

“You’re going to have to ask those folks up there,” he told her, pointing to the judges.

“We all want to know the answer to that question,” Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton interjected.

Under a prior court order, secrecy envelopes possibly including registration cards will be opened soon to determine how many may have made the same mistake as Awes. The order said those voters are likely to have their ballots counted, assuming they met all other legal requirements.

It was originally believed that as many as 1,600 rejected absentee ballots could fall into that category, but the final number appears to be far less.

Jim Gelbmann, deputy secretary of state, said he will report to the court by Friday how many secrecy envelopes included valid registration cards. Even then, the absentee ballot could remain on the rejected pile if there were other reasons for turning it aside, Gelbmann said in an interview.

Gelbmann said searches conducted by counties and city election workers have found some of the ballots in question were actually accepted or the voter trumped their absentee ballot by showing up in person on Election Day. He said he won’t give specific details on what the searches have turned up until he provides that information to the court.

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