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December 29, 2008

Franken, Coleman feud over absentee ballots

The campaigns of Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Democrat Al Franken are far apart in resolving the thorny issue over counting absentee ballots in the disputed Minnesota Senate race.

Both campaigns aren’t close in reaching a resolution over how many mistakenly rejected absentee ballots should be included in the final election tally. The process was mandated by the state Supreme Court, which ruled that both campaigns needed to agree on the ballots' inclusion before they're counted.

Franken currently leads Coleman by 46 votes, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s unofficial count.

Over the weekend, county election officials identified 1,346 absentee ballots that were improperly rejected. Franken campaign sent a letter to Coleman’s campaign attorneys on Saturday asking them to agree on including all those ballots in the count, but Coleman campaign attorney Fritz Knaak said the proposal was unacceptable.

In an afternoon conference call, Knaak said the Franken campaign was intentionally rushing the process to its benefit. Knaak said the campaign wants to add several hundred additional absentee ballots where election officials determined the signatures on the ballot and registration card didn’t match.

“The Franken campaign no longer cares about accuracy and transparency. They want to rush through this process as long as they’re on top,” said Knaak.

Franken's campaign has argued Coleman's camp is stonewalling the process.

"We are almost at the finish line of this recount, and Instead of moving this process forward, they play political games in the hope that they can drag this out and thwart the imminent conclusion of this recount," said Franken attorney David Lillehaug.

The state Supreme Court ruled that the process of determining which ballots to count needs to be completed by Friday night, a timetable that appears increasingly difficult to complete.

Coleman’s campaign has signaled that it will contest the election results if the state Canvassing Board declares Franken the winner. The Canvassing Board is prepared to declare a winner by January 6—the same day the Senate is sworn in.

Meanwhile, Knaak also dismissed a comment from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) in Sunday's Minneapolis Star-Tribune that hinted Franken could be seated in the Senate without being officially certified as the winner*.

In the story, Klobuchar said that the candidate certified as the winner by the state Canvassing Board should be seated on a provisional basis – until the disputes are resolved.

“That was astounding to see,” said Knaak. ”There is absolutely no precedent for that so we were truly amazed. She probably wished she had that one back.”

A Klobuchar spokesman said the senator stood by her comments, and cited the Senate's provisional seating of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) after she won a contested election in 1996.

 * To clarify, the state Canvassing Board will be declaring a winner – possibly next week – though the race will not be officially certified until all post-election challenges are resolved. Klobuchar’s comments refer to a situation where the Canvassing Board would declare a winner, but there would still be remaining post-election disputes to deal with.

Klobuchar did not mention Franken by name in the Star-Trib interview; she referred to the candidate certified as the winner by the State Canvassing Board.