Weather Forecast


Supreme Court: Franken won election

Al Franken cracks a joke in between calls to voters last year in his St. Paul campaign office. He was making calls days before the election. Minn. State Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL - The Minnesota Supreme Court says Al Franken won the U.S. Senate race and should be sworn in as the state's second senator.

In an early-afternoon ruling, five members of the high court agreed with a district court decision that Democrat Franken received more votes than Republican Norm Coleman.

Now that the Supreme Court has spoken, attention turns to Gov. Tim Pawlenty as political observers wonder if he will sign a certificate declaring Franken the winner. While the court did not specifically order him to sign an election certificate giving Franken the election, it said he is "entitled" to the document.

The governor has hedged when asked about whether he would sign a certificate once the Supreme Court ruled in Franken's favor. State law requires the certificate to be signed once all state court activity is finished, but some see a loophole if Coleman appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court or decides to file a new lawsuit in federal court.

While the election certificate is important, more important is what senators decide. They have final say in who is seated in their body.

The court case is important nationally because if Franken becomes senator, that would give Democrats and their allies 60 votes in the Senate. That is enough to stifle Republican opposition, giving Democrats an easier time passing their bills.

The Senate legal contest centered on whether some absentee ballots were not counted, but should have been.

The high court essentially was looking at whether thousands of ballots from outside Minnesota's largest cities were improperly rejected.

Coleman's attorneys told the justices on June 1 that laws were not evenly applied, and actions in larger counties such as St. Louis, Ramsey and Hennepin tilted last Nov. 4's U.S. Senate election in Franken's favor.

Democratic-heavy counties "are the counties that relaxed the standards and let the votes in," Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg said. Since those votes cannot be uncounted, Coleman's team wanted more rejected absentee ballots counted in hopes of erasing Franken's 312-vote lead.

Coleman had hoped that the five Supreme Court justices who heard the case would send it back to the three-judge district court panel to consider counting more ballots, using the more liberal populated counties' method of decided what absentee ballots were properly cast.

Franken attorney Marc Elias, a nationally prominent Democratic elections law lawyer, said it is only natural that elections officials across the state handled things in different ways. There is no problem with that, he said.

The high court was looking at a case resulting in the longest-ever time Minnesota has gone without one of its two U.S. senators. The Nov. 4 election was so close that a statewide recount of 2.9 million ballots was needed.

Coleman decided the state Canvassing Board did not properly include enough absentee ballots in its recount and he announced Jan. 6 that he would challenge the election in court.

That was a day after the Canvassing Board certified election results from 2.9 million voters, giving Franken 225 more votes than Coleman.

"This is not just about me," Coleman said of his election contest. "The eyes of the nation are on the state that we love and we need to show them that Minnesota has done everything we can to make sure that we protect every voter's right."

Some votes were counted twice while other lawfully cast ballots went uncounted, Coleman alleged.

The campaigns' positioning on absentee ballots in the election contest was a reversal of sorts. Coleman's campaign asked that all 12,000 rejected absentee ballots be considered in the trial and Franken opposed it. Early in the recount, Franken argued that some absentee ballots were rejected improperly and should be included. Coleman's campaign fought against that.

In the trial where Coleman challenged the recount, Franken's lead rose to 312.

That trial was conducted by three district court judges from around the state. The panel began hearing Coleman's challenge on Jan. 26 and released its ruling against the former senator on April 13.

Coleman's Senate term ended in early January.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.