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Coleman hints at new election

Al Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton helps witness Emily Patton, who said she is legally blind, during the U.S. Senate election trial Tuesday. Patton was among voters whose absentee ballots were rejected in the election. Pool photo by Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

ST. PAUL - Norm Coleman says it may not be possible for the U.S. Senate election trial judges to determine who won the race, adding there is a chance judges might need to order a new election.

There are more "illegal" votes in the tally than the 225 votes that separate him from Al Franken, the former Republican senator said Tuesday.

Coleman stopped short of saying the judges should order a new election, but did not rule it out. He was asked whether he agrees with a campaign legal filing that suggested one remedy would be to "set aside" the Nov. 4 election.

"In the end, I think that's something folks will have to think about," Coleman told reporters Tuesday.

A new election is not an option because there is no state law or rule allowing it and there is no precedent, Franken attorney Marc Elias said.

"There is nothing in Minnesota that would suggest that one could simply start over again," Elias said.

Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said the situation surrounding the unresolved Senate election is new for Minnesota, but that the "court has equitable powers to do what it wants."

Coleman is challenging Franken's election victory in court. In the meantime, the Senate seat is vacant and could be for several more months if the loser of the current court contest appeals the decision to a higher state court or the federal courts.

In the courtroom Tuesday, Franken's campaign used the first day of its case to call 23 voters to testify. The voters, all from the Twin Cities area, cast absentee ballots that were rejected in the election.

Franken's campaign called those voters because it believes their ballots were wrongly rejected and should be counted or at least be reconsidered by the court, Elias said.

Coleman attorneys agreed at least four of them should be opened and counted. Some voters testified that while their signatures on ballot documents did not exactly match, they signed them.

"That's me. It's totally me," Fredrick Amara of Burnsville said. His ballot was flagged for mismatched signatures.

Franken's campaign plans to call more voters to the witness stand in the coming days.

The voters' testimony further exposed a flaw with a voter registration database maintained by the secretary of state's office, Coleman's campaign claimed. Some voters' absentee ballots were rejected by election officials because they relied on inaccurate information in that database, attorneys said.

Coleman's campaign also claims that a ruling last month by the judges that barred some absentee ballots from being considered in the trial meant that similar ballots that were included in the election tally are illegal.

Given those two problems, Ginsberg said, it "has become a virtual impossibility" for the judges to carry out their duty - deciding which candidate received the most lawfully cast ballots in the election.

Since the trial still is playing out, the judges have time to fix the problem of "illegal" votes in the election tally, Coleman said.

"Whether we can clean this up and whether we can sort it out, I can't tell you right now," he said.

Outside the courtroom, Coleman's campaign provided copies of voter registration documents that it said show some absentee ballots already included in the tally would be considered illegal under a recent judicial ruling. They included:

-- Voter Glen Stanley, who used Beverly Stanley of Grand Rapids as a witness. The campaign said state records show Beverly Stanley was not a properly registered voter at the time she witnessed the vote, but the ballot was counted anyway.

-- Voter Anne Haugen, who used Thomas Kennedy of Detroit Lakes as a witness. The campaign said a search of the state database showed a problem with Kennedy's voter registration.

-- Voter Ian Kaner, who used Sharon Kaner of Duluth as a witness. Registration documents did not match for Sharon Kaner, the campaign said.