Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Back in Minnesota…

It has been quite a while since we gave you a detailed update of the Coleman-Franken “race” in Minnesota, so we thought we would do so today.

A 3-judge panel ruled unanimously last week that Democrat Al Franken won the election for U.S. Senate back in November by 312 votes. Norm Coleman argued that Minnesota’s variety of procedures to count absentee ballots violated the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and disenfranchised over 4,000 voters. Politico reports on how the panel responded.

While acknowledging that errors were bound to happen in any election, the court said that the Minnesota Senate election was free from fraud and that errors did not reach a constitutional violation of equal protection.

"There is no evidence of a systematic problem of disenfranchisement in the state’s election system, including in its absentee-balloting procedures," the judges wrote. "To the contrary, the general election resulted in a ‘fair expression’ of the voters of Minnesota."

Attorney Ben Ginsberg - a legend of the Bush v. Gore battle, and is representing Coleman - said the judges spent "so much time in patting their back on the Minnesota system" that they "missed the issue" that thousands of voters are still being disenfranchised. "We’ll be at peace if all Minnesotans are enfranchised."

Staying on message, NRSC Chairman Sen. John Cornyn told supporters in a fundraising email that the Court’s decision was "fundamentally misguided" and that Democrats were being hypocritical. "It’s frankly shocking that many of the same Democrats who so loudly decried voter disenfranchisement during the Florida recount in 2000 have so quickly run away from that principle when it no longer fits their political agenda" said Cornyn’s email.

But the Democrats are hitting back with a radio ad. The ad tells Coleman to "stop putting his political ambition ahead of what’s right for Minnesota."

"Enough is enough," says the announcer, noting that Franken won the original election, the recount and a legal challenge. "America is in an economic crisis - and Minnesota faces unique challenges of its own. Minnesota deserves two Senators and voters deserve to have their verdict stand without delay."

Coming one day after a three-judge panel in Minnesota ruled that Franken "received the highest number of votes legally cast," the ad also represents a coordinated Democratic push to end the race.

The DNC-funded ad is playing on news radio stations in the Twin Cities.

Coleman, however, has already appealed the recent decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which has agreed to review the case. However, there is some question as to whether a quorum of Justices can be reached.

Two of the seven Minnesota Justices have already recused themselves because they served on the State Canvassing Board that has ruled on a great number of issues in this case. Now the legal community is wondering whether there will be three more recusals.

Justices Lori Gildea and Christopher Dietzen donated to Coleman campaigns, while Helen Meyer gave money to Sen. Paul Wellstone, whom Coleman challenged in 2002. These are certainly grounds for recusal.

But in order for a quorum of the Court to be reached - and to therefore decide the case - at least four of the seven Justices must be present. It is pretty unusual for a case to be undecided by the Court due to recusals.

If it does happen, the issue would be dead and Al Franken would finally take his seat in the U.S. Senate. If the Justices do not recuse themselves…well, we don’t know where we’ll be a month from now.

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