m6544 BC-MN-MinnesotaSenate 4thLd-Writethru 11-18 0694 routed b
Minn. board orders Senate recount
Eds: RESTORES background, ADDS quotes, photo numbers; May be led from 3:15 p.m. Franken news conference.
AP Photos MNJM101-105
By BRIAN BAKST and PATRICK CONDON
Associated Press Writers
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The election board that will eventually declare a winner in Minnesota’s deadlocked U.S. Senate race signed off Tuesday on a statewide manual recount while delaying a decision on how to handle rejected absentee ballots.
The state Canvassing Board’s action means the recount will begin Wednesday as planned. It’s needed to figure out whether Republican Norm Coleman or Democrat Al Franken won the race.
Board members wanted more time to consider arguments over the absentee ballots, but didn’t give a specific date for issuing its ruling.
The recount is required under state law because the difference between Coleman and Franken was within one-half of 1 percent. The incumbent Coleman’s 215-vote lead heading into the recount translates to 0.007 percent.
Franken is pressing to include absentee ballots it says were rejected on technicalities. Campaign lawyer David Lillehaug argued the board has the power to add them to the count of more than 2.9 million ballots.
"They have a right to have official mistakes corrected and their votes counted. Not later, but now," he said. "This board has the full authority, and indeed we submit, the obligation to do exactly that."
Coleman’s campaign contends that rejected ballots should be kept from the recount and considered only if the election result winds up in court.
"There is no precedent for what’s being requested of this body by the Franken campaign and we see no reason why a different procedure should be followed at this late juncture in our history," said Fritz Knaak, Coleman’s lead attorney.
Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson, one of five board members, said he wanted more time to sort through "a blizzard of paperwork" over the absentee dispute. Some filings came in mere minutes before the board convened. He said such a review could take "a few days or a week."
Separately, the Franken campaign has sued in Ramsey County seeking the release of names of voters with invalidated absentee ballots. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday.
A packed crowd of lawyers, campaign staffers and reporters took in the meeting of the canvassing board, a body whose deliberations are usually overlooked. Lawyers for both campaigns addressed the panel in person after filing legal briefs over the past two days.
Franken’s team filed a brief earlier Tuesday questioning whether local election officials properly verified vote counts. Specifically, the brief said at least 49 of 87 counties didn’t publicly undertake precinct-by-precinct reviews of vote totals as state law requires.
According to the brief, accepting the local figures would "materially fail to comply with Minnesota canvassing law requirements designed to ensure that the information this board is being asked to certify as correct is, in fact, complete and correct."
Coleman’s legal team labeled it a "brazen attack on local election officials, without any authority or justification."
The board heard the argument but didn’t render an opinion.
Both sides were jockeying for advantage by trying to shape the rules. The recount will be done in more than 100 sites across the state over the next 2 1/2 weeks. A month from now, the canvassing board will reconvene to rule on disputed ballots and certify the election.
The 5-member board — made up of the secretary of state, two Supreme Court justices and two district judges — adopted a 16-point plan for the recount. It covers the rules for challenging ballots and procedures for securely storing ballots that are disputed.