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Court Denies Coleman Lawsuit to Halt Certification of Minn. Election

The Minnesota Supreme Court issued an order late Monday morning (pdf) denying an emergency motion from the Norm Coleman campaign to stop the State Canvassing Board from certifying the vote in the statewide Senate recount. That clears the way for the canvassing board to certify this afternoon that Al Franken received the most votes in the Nov. 4 election as determined by the recount that followed.

In its order, the court wrote that “the threshold question before us in this motion is whether disputes over rejected absentee ballots can be resolved in this automatic recount proceeding, or whether they must await an election contest proceeding.”

Only “obvious errors in the counting or recording of the votes” that all sides could agree on, the court said, should be fixed in the recount that the canvassing board will certify today. All other disputes belong in a court action called an election contest that either side may file within seven days of certification.

That reasoning goes some way to explain an aspect of the court’s Dec. 18 ruling (pdf) that has since been roundly criticized: a provision allowing the Franken and Coleman campaigns to remove from the recount even those absentee ballots that election officials decide should have been included on Election Day.

“[W]here election officials and the parties agree that an absentee ballot was improperly rejected, correction of that error should not have to await an election contest. We therefore ordered that any absentee ballot envelope that local election officials and the candidates agree was rejected in error should be opened and its ballot counted, subject to challenge by either candidate. In doing so, we implicitly recognized that any agreement among the parties was voluntary and, absent such an agreement, resolution of those disputed ballots would need to await an election contest proceeding.”

The order today carried the signature of Associate Justice Alan Page — who was first in line to criticize the court’s Dec. 18 order with a blistering dissent. As with earlier recount issues, the two members of the court who are currently serving on the State Canvassing Board — Chief Justice Eric Magnuson and Associate Justice G. Barry Anderson — did not take part in considering or deciding the question. All legal filings before the court related to the recount are available online.

Chris Steller is a reporter for TWI’s sister site, The Minnesota Independent.

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