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Context of 'December 24, 2008: Minnesota Supreme Court Rejects Coleman Lawsuit, Paving Way for Franken Win in Senate Race'

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Norm Coleman (l) and Al Franken (r) are locked in a recount battle for a US Senate seat representing Minnesota.Norm Coleman (l) and Al Franken (r) are locked in a recount battle for a US Senate seat representing Minnesota. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]The US Senate race in Minnesota, between incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) and challenger Al Franken (D-MN), concludes with Coleman enjoying a razor-thin margin of victory and declaring himself the victor. However, Franken (running as the candidate for the “Democratic-Farmer-Labor” party, or DFL, Minnesota’s version of the state Democratic Party) says he will ask for a recount, as is his right under Minnesota law. Minnesota officials say the recount could delay the final result of the race until December. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune characterizes the race between Coleman and Franken as “one of the most bitter… in Minnesota history.” The initial results show Coleman in the lead by 215 votes, though he was adjudged to lead by as much as 725 votes in early estimates. The Associated Press previously called Coleman the winner, but has now withdrawn that call, labeling the race as too close to judge. Franken says his campaign is investigating alleged voting irregularities at a number of polling places, and adds: “[A] recount could change the outcome significantly.… Let me be clear: Our goal is to ensure that every vote is properly counted.” Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) says a recount would not begin until the middle of the month and would likely stretch into December. “No matter how fast people would like it, the emphasis is on accuracy,” he says. The vote is split three ways, with Coleman and Franken each having 42 percent of the vote and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley having 15 percent. Exit polls show Franken rode a wave of Democrats voting for Barack Obama (D-IL) as president, including a large number of first-time voters. Minnesota delivered its electoral votes for Obama. However, Barkley drained a significant amount of votes away from Franken. Franken had trouble convincing some voters of his credibility, in light of his career as an overtly liberal comedian and author, while Coleman was hurt by being connected with the poorly performing US economy under President Bush. Franken caught up with Coleman in polling after the stock market almost collapsed in September. Franken says that like the just-elected Obama, “I believe we’re going to celebrate a victory in this race, too.” Coleman tells supporters that he “feels good” about the ultimate results. Both Franken and Coleman engaged in harshly negative campaign advertising, which drove a large number of voters to choose Barkley in the race. National Republicans called Franken “unfit for office” because of his liberalism, while Franken attacked Coleman by pairing him with Bush, telling voters that Coleman helped Bush “drive the economy right into the ditch.” The two campaigns together spent almost $50 million, making it by far the most expensive Senate race in the country. Franken was dogged by allegations that he did not pay the proper income taxes, and embarrassed by examples of “lewd” humor from his past comedy engagements, leading him to apologize for some of his humor to his supporters. Coleman dealt with questions about his payment of artificially low rent on an exclusive Capitol Hill rowhouse, and questionable contributions from wealthy benefactors. Coleman asks Franken to waive the recount in the interest of saving Minnesota taxpayers the cost of the procedure, and so that “healing” from the hotly contested race can begin. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/5/2008; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/6/2008; Associated Press, 1/6/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Ritchie, Al Franken, Associated Press, George W. Bush, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Norm Coleman, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

Two days after the US Senate election in Minnesota failed to produce a clear winner (see November 4-5, 2008), Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) demands that his challenger, Al Franken (D-MN), concede. Franken has asked that the votes be recounted, as Coleman originally led with a razor-thin 725-vote margin of victory. (A recount is automatic under the law with a margin of victory of less than 0.5 percent, as this one is.) As ballot totals have shifted with the addition of absentee and other ballots, Coleman’s margin has shrunk even further, to 438 votes. Franken says that “a recount could change the outcome significantly,” and adds: “Let me be clear: Our goal is to ensure that every vote is properly counted.” Coleman has requested that the recount not take place, and has declared himself the winner of the election. Coleman also says that a recount would cost some $86,000 to Minnesota taxpayers, a cost he describes as prohibitively high considering that he would almost certainly win the recount. Franken does not concede. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/6/2008]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

The campaign of US Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN) says that “improbable shifts” in vote tallies are improperly favoring Coleman’s opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), in Minnesota’s Senate race. The accusation implies that Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) is exhibiting partisan bias in the Senate race recount. Franken requested a recount after Coleman was declared the winner by a margin narrow enough to legally support such a request (see November 4-5, 2008). Ritchie won the office two years ago after accusing his Republican predecessor of partisan bias. He promises that his oversight of the Senate recount will be fair, transparent, and impartial. “Minnesotans have an expectation of a nonpartisan election recount,” he has said. Coleman’s initial estimate of a 725-vote margin of victory has dwindled to some 200 votes, prompting Coleman to complain of “improbable shifts” in the vote tallies that are unfairly benefiting Franken. One of Coleman’s lawyers tells a reporter, “We’re not going to sit idly by while mysterious, statistically dubious changes in vote totals take place after official government offices close.” Ritchie responds by accusing the Coleman campaign of trying “to create a cloud” over the recount and “denigrating the election process,” and says that such shifts are normal when votes are retallied after any election, when county officials verify election night tabulations reported to his office. Ritchie says the Coleman campaign is mounting “a well-known political strategy,” adding, “If people want to accuse county elections officials of partisan activity, they better be ready to back it up.” Ritchie oversaw a recent Supreme Court election that was praised by both sides as being fairly handled. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/10/2008; TPM Muckraker, 11/11/2008] According to Ritchie’s office, small vote shifts after an election is called are normal. After an election, the office says: “[E]lection officials proof their work and make corrections, as necessary. It is routine for election officials to discover a number of small errors, including improper data entry, transposition of digits (e.g. entering the number 48 instead of 84), and other items that affect the reported outcome.” [Huffington Post, 11/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Mark Ritchie, Al Franken, Norm Coleman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) launches attacks on Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) in an attempt to throw the Minnesota Senate race recount into doubt. Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) and challenger Al Franken (D-MN) ran for Coleman’s seat in the US Senate, and the results, narrowly favoring Coleman, were challenged by Franken (see November 4-5, 2008). The NRSC distributes a three-page “backgrounder” on Ritchie to reporters that implies Ritchie is letting his political background affect his conduct in administering the recount. Among Ritchie’s “suspicious” activities are his speech at the Democratic convention during the summer, and his having “led a voter registration coalition that included ACORN,” the much-vilified Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (see May 2, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 18, 2008, and October 14, 2008). The NRSC even attempts to imply that Ritchie is a Communist sympathizer in a piece entitled “Communist Party USA Wrote Encouragingly Of His Candidacy.” (On November 19, Fox News’s Andrew Napolitano will call Ritchie a “former Communist” and a “former member of the Communist Party,” but without advancing any proof of the allegations.) According to a report by TPM Muckraker’s Zachary Roth, “there’s no evidence that Ritchie has ever used his role as the state’s top elections administrator to advantage Democrats.” Roth writes that “the point of the GOP gambit… appears to be to cast public doubt on the integrity of the recount process, thereby bolstering Coleman’s claim that’s he’s the rightful winner and that a recount is unnecessary—just the strategy pursued by George Bush’s campaign in Florida in 2000.” [TPM Muckraker, 11/11/2008; Media Matters, 11/20/2008]

Entity Tags: National Republican Senatorial Committee, Al Franken, Andrew Napolitano, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Norm Coleman, Zachary Roth, Communist Party USA, Mark Ritchie

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

An unsigned op-ed in the Wall Street Journal accuses the Senate campaign of Al Franken (D-MN) of voter fraud. Franken and incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) are locked in a race that was too close to call, and are awaiting the results of a recount (see November 4-5, 2008). Since then, the Coleman campaign (see November 10, 2008) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC—see November 11, 2008) have implied a variety of wrongdoings, including underhanded ballot tally manipulation, partisan bias, and even shadowy connections to the Communist Party. Some Democrats, the Journal states, are engaged in “stealing a Senate seat for left-wing joker Al Franken.” The Journal reiterates a claim by Coleman’s lead recount lawyer Fritz Knaak that the director of the Minneapolis Board of Elections forgot to count 32 absentee ballots that she had left in her car. The Coleman campaign attempted to get a judge to stop those ballots from being added to the total, the Journal states, but the judge refused to do so. The Journal also records a number of statistically “unusual” or “improbable” vote tally shifts that have combined to shave Coleman’s initial 725-vote lead to just over 200. The Journal joins Coleman and the NRSC in attacking Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN), whose office is overseeing the upcoming recount. It cites Ritchie’s own run for office in 2006, which was supported by, among others, liberal activist group MoveOn.org, and says Ritchie is “an ally” of “the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, of fraudulent voter-registration fame” (see May 2, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 18, 2008, and October 14, 2008). Ritchie’s “relationship” with ACORN, the Journal states, “might explain why prior to the election Mr. Ritchie waved off evidence of thousands of irregularities on Minnesota voter rolls, claiming that accusations of fraud were nothing more than ‘desperateness’ from Republicans.” The Journal expands its accusations to include the Franken campaign, which it says is “mau-mauing election officials into accepting tossed ballots.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/12/2008; MinnPost, 11/12/2008] The same day as the Journal op-ed is published, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) repeats the allegation about the absentee ballots being left overnight in an election official’s car, telling a Fox News reporter: “As I understand it, and this is based on news accounts, he claims that even though they were in his car, that they were never outside of his security or area of control, so the courts allowed that. It seems a little loose to me.” Asked by a Fox reporter, “What were they doing in his car?” Pawlenty replies: “There has not been a good explanation for that, Kelly. That’s a very good question, but they’ve been included in the count pile which is concerning.” Pawlenty mischaracterizes the gender of the Minneapolis Elections Director, Cindy Reichert. Reichert also says the entire story is “just not true.” The story comes from Knaak, who initially told reporters, “We were actually told ballots had been riding around in her car for several days, which raised all kinds of integrity questions.” By the day’s end, Knaak backs away from the claim of impropriety. A local outlet reports, “Knaak said he feels assured that what was going on with the 32 ballots was neither wrong nor unfair.” Reichert says that Knaak’s story is entirely false. No ballots were ever left in her car, nor were they left unattended in anyone else’s car. They were secured between Election Night and when they were counted. They were briefly in an election official’s car, along with every other absentee ballot, as they were all driven from individual precincts to polling places as mandated by Minnesota election law. “What I find ludicrous is that this goes on all around the state,” Reichert says. “If we could process them [at City Hall] we’d love to do that.” The absentee ballots were transported, sorted, and counted according to standard elections procedures, Reichert says. The 32 ballots in question were not counted until November 8, and both the Coleman and Franken campaigns were informed that the ballots were not included in the initial Minneapolis tallies. The tally for those 32 ballots: Franken 18, Coleman seven, and seven for other candidates or for no one. [MinnPost, 11/12/2008]

Entity Tags: Tim Pawlenty, Fox News, Cindy Reichert, Al Franken, Fritz Knaak, Norm Coleman, Mark Ritchie, Wall Street Journal, National Republican Senatorial Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The campaign of US Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN) issues a press release claiming that Coleman’s victory is “confirmed.” Coleman’s press release is erroneous. Coleman’s campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan, issues a similarly erroneous statement that says: “Senator Coleman has, for the third time, been named the winner of the 2008 election. We look forward to the beginning of tomorrow’s recount, and to what we believe to be the ultimate conclusion of the final chapter of this year’s election—the re-election of Senator Norm Coleman.” Far from being confirmed, the recount procedure involving Coleman and his opponent Al Franken (D-MN) has not officially begun (see November 4-5, 2008). It is unclear what basis Coleman has for claiming victory, and no official entity has confirmed Coleman’s victory in the race. Franken’s campaign also issues a release announcing that the recount procedure is about to commence, noting accurately that the State Canvassing Board has refused to certify a winner and stating the campaign’s intention to support the recount. [Minnesota Independent, 11/18/2008; New York Times, 11/18/2008] MSNBC reports that Coleman “is trying to look the part of the winner [in order to be able to] call into question any lead taken by Franken in the recount.” [MSNBC, 11/19/2008] Three days later, liberal reporter Eric Hananoki will write that Coleman is going beyond taking “premature victory laps” by demanding a halt to the recount, “float[ing] false voter fraud stories,” and “smear[ing] election officials” (see November 10, 2008, November 11, 2008, and November 12, 2008). [Huffington Post, 11/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Eric Hananoki, Al Franken, Cullen Sheehan, MSNBC

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

US Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) denies saying that US Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN), currently locked in a recount with Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN—see November 4-5, 2008), “stuff[ed] the ballot box” to stay abreast of Coleman in the Senate race. Bachmann made the comments on MSNBC’s Hardball just before the election. Fox News co-host Alan Colmes of Hannity and Colmes offers to show Bachmann a video clip of her making the statement, but Fox terminates the segment with Bachmann before the clip can be aired. In the same appearance, Bachmann accused President-elect Obama and some Democrats in Congress of being “anti-American,” and suggested the media investigate her claim. She denied making that statement also (see October 17-22, 2008). On Hannity and Colmes, Bachmann says that Franken “wants to stuff the ballot box with rejected ballots,” and this “calls into question what the record is and who’s watching the books.” Bachmann now says that Hardball host Chris Matthews baited and trapped her into making her remarks, and an “urban legend” about what she said quickly sprang up. “What I said was, ‘Do your job,’” she tells Colmes. “That’s what I said.” [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Al Franken, Alan Colmes, Norm Coleman, Chris Matthews, Fox News, Michele Bachmann

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

One hundred and thirty-three ballots, stored in a single envelope, are missing from the warehouse containing the hundreds of thousands of ballots cast in Minnesota during the November elections. The ballots are part of a statewide recount (see November 19, 2008) to determine the winner of the US Senate race between incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Al Franken (D-MN—see November 4-5, 2008). Minneapolis officials are diligently searching for the missing ballots, according to Mayor R.T. Rybak (D-MN). The recounts are supposed to be finished today, but Minneapolis has been granted an extension to find the ballots. Franken’s lead recount attorney, Marc Elias, issues the following statement: “Find the ballots.… The outcome of this election might be at stake.” The Coleman campaign is alleging ballot tampering. “We do not know that there are any ballots missing, and it is premature and simply irresponsible to suggest that they are,” says Coleman’s attorney Fritz Knaak. He goes on to say that because Rybak, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, and many Minneapolis city officials are Democrats, there could be some kind of orchestrated effort to suppress votes to favor Franken. However, “It is critical that there be no effort to make this matter a partisan issue,” he adds. Minneapolis Elections Director Cindy Reichert says there is no evidence of any sort of “foul play” concerning the missing ballots (see November 12, 2008). Official recount tallies show Coleman with a 205-vote lead, but this number is not current and Franken is expected to gain votes, especially if the missing ballots are found and tallied. The missing ballots are from a precinct largely populated by college students, considered a group that generally favors Franken. [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 12/5/2008] Four days later, Minneapolis declares the ballots to be irretrievably missing, ending the state’s counting of ballots and moving the recount process into the next phase—canvassing the results and considering ballots challenged by the two campaigns. Ritchie says that the canvassed and audited election-night results from the precinct can be counted in lieu of the missing ballots, though it takes four more days for the Canvassing Board to come to the same conclusion. Counting the ballots adds 36 (later reported as 46) to Franken’s total. Coleman’s campaign says that there may be other reasons for the ballot issue, with a spokesman saying, “We would hope further review of these other scenarios will be conducted, rather than just accepting the political spin of the Franken campaign.” The Coleman campaign is also protesting some counties’ decision to review initially rejected absentee ballots. Franken is expected to gain votes if the absentee ballots in question are counted. [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 12/9/2008; TPM Election Central, 12/12/2008]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Cindy Reichert, Al Franken, Fritz Knaak, Marc Elias, R.T. Rybak, Mark Ritchie, Minnesota State Canvassing Board

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

The Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously rejects a lawsuit by Minnesota Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN), who argued that absentee ballots should not be counted in the vote tallies that are giving his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), an edge in the recount for the Senate seat both are vying for (see November 4-5, 2008). The Coleman campaign, alleging that many of the votes were counted twice, has asked that vote tallies in 25 selected precincts should be reverted to their Election Night totals, which would blot out Franken’s lead in the vote count. The Minnesota high court rules that a question such as this should be reserved for post-recount proceedings, and says that the Coleman campaign’s theory of double-counted ballots is not supported by evidence. Currently, Franken leads by a narrow 47-vote margin. According to press reports, the lawsuit was Coleman’s last, best shot at winning the seat; with the high court’s decision, a Franken victory is “nearly a foregone conclusion when this recount finishes up in early January.” Coleman’s lead recount lawyer Fritz Knaak says that the decision “virtually guarantees that this will be decided in an election contest,” indicating that the Coleman campaign is not yet ready to concede defeat and may well be planning further litigation. “[I]t’s highly unlikely that one senator will be seated on January 6th,” Knaak says. Franken campaign spokesperson Andy Barr says: “We win in Supreme Court. The process can move forward despite attempts to halt its progress and cast doubt on the result.” [TPM Election Central, 12/24/2008; MPR News, 12/24/2008; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 12/24/2008]

Entity Tags: Minnesota Supreme Court, Al Franken, Andy Barr, Fritz Knaak, Norm Coleman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

US Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) is confirmed as the winner of the Minnesota Senate race over incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) after over a month of vote recounting and legal maneuvering by both sides. Coleman was initially declared the winner, but Franken immediately requested a recount, as the vote margin was very close (see November 4-5, 2008). Franken is declared the winner by 225 votes out of 2.9 million cast. The final totals: Franken with 1,212,431 votes and Coleman with 1,212,206 votes. Third-party candidate Dean Barkley also garnered a significant number of votes. Coleman says he intends to file a lawsuit challenging the results, blocking Franken from being seated in the Senate. Coleman’s attorney Tony Trimble says: “This process isn’t at an end. It is now just at the beginning.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The race in Minnesota is not over.” Franken says, “After 62 days of careful and painstaking hand-inspection of nearly 3 million ballots, after hours and hours of hard work by election officials and volunteers around the state, I am proud to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota.” Both sides mounted an aggressive challenge to votes, with campaign officials challenging thousands of ballots during the recounts. Franken made headway when election officials opened and counted some 900 ballots that had erroneously been disqualified on Election Day. Coleman says some ballots were mishandled and others were wrongly excluded from the recount, thus denying him the victory. His loss was made certain when the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to change the totals of the recount (see December 24, 2008). The state Canvassing Board, the entity in charge of the recounts, votes unanimously to accept the totals as final. Franken’s lawyer Mark Elias says of Coleman’s promised court fight: “Former Senator Coleman has to make a decision. And it is a profound decision, one that he has to look into his heart to make: Whether or not he wants to be the roadblock to the state moving forward and play the role of a spoiler or sore loser or whether he wants to accept what was a very close election.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says, “The race in Minnesota is over,” and calls Republican efforts to continue challenging the result “only a little finger pointing.” However, a spokesperson for Reid says Franken will not be seated when Congress convenes later in the week. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) warns that any attempt to seat Franken would result in “chaos.” Trimble says that the recount was handled poorly, and there “can be no confidence” in the result. The seat will remain unfilled until Coleman’s legal challenge is settled. [Bloomberg, 1/5/2009; Associated Press, 1/6/2009; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/6/2009] Republicans in the Minnesota legislature have speculated on the possibility of Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) appointing someone, presumably a Republican, to take the Senate seat on a temporary basis while the recount plays out, but Democrats, who hold the majority in the legislature, say they will block any such efforts. Legal experts say Pawlenty’s legal authority to make such an appointment is dubious at best. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/6/2009] Later press reports will state that Franken’s margin of victory was 312 votes, after a judicial panel reviews the recount totals. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 4/22/2009] Coleman files a lawsuit to block Franken’s victory (see January 7, 2009).

Entity Tags: Dean Barkley, Harry Reid, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Al Franken, John Cornyn, Minnesota Supreme Court, Tony Trimble, Mitch McConnell, Norm Coleman, Tim Pawlenty, Mark Elias

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

Former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), who was recently declared the loser in a hotly contested US Senate race in Minnesota (see January 5, 2009), rejects the findings of the Canvassing Board that reported his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), as the winner, and files a lawsuit challenging the results. “Not every valid vote has been counted and some have been counted twice,” Coleman says. “Let’s take the time right now in this contested race to get it right.” The suit is filed in the District Court of Ramsey County, where Coleman hopes to convince a three-judge panel that votes were improperly excluded and included in the recount. Franken’s attorney Marc Elias calls Coleman’s lawsuit “an uphill battle to overturn the will of the people” and adds, “It is essentially the same thin gruel, warmed-over leftovers… that they have been serving the last few weeks.” Elias says the Franken campaign has its own questions about uncounted ballots. The lawsuit blocks Franken from being seated in the US Senate until it is resolved. Former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson (R-MN) says Coleman should concede the election and bow out gracefully. “I don’t think it’s winnable,” Carlson says, and warns that Coleman risks damaging his reputation by pursuing such a lawsuit. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says Coleman is “entitled to the opportunity to proceed however he sees fit. But for someone who’s been in the trenches on a number of these elections, graciously conceding… would be the right step. This can’t drag on forever.” Coleman says the issue is not about his winning or losing, but about fairness and accuracy in vote counting. Coleman’s suit will contend that the Canvassing Board did not apply consistent standards to challenged ballots, and both local election officials and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) counted ballots unfairly to the advantage of Franken. Coleman’s lawyer Fritz Knaak says the campaign’s lawyers are conducting their own “very real investigation” into the election, and promises that the campaign will present testimony about “double voting” in some precincts. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/7/2009]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Arne Carlson, Mark Ritchie, Fritz Knaak, Marc Elias, Harry Reid, Minnesota State Canvassing Board

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

Liberal author and columnist Joe Conason says that conservatives accusing Minnesota Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) of stealing the election from opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) should show genuine evidence of voter fraud “or shut up.” Franken was recently declared the winner of the US Senate race by a narrow margin of votes (see January 5, 2009). Conason cites a raft of radio and television talk show hosts such as Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, and conservative billionaires such as Richard Mellon Scaife, who have been “scream[ing] that Franken is stealing, rigging, pilfering, scamming, thieving, and cheating his way to victory” without advancing any proof, and “in plain contradiction of the available facts.” Conason writes, “Not only is there no evidence that Franken or his campaign ‘cheated’ in any way during the election or the recount, but there is ample reason to believe that the entire process was fair, balanced, and free from partisan taint.” Conason cites claims by Limbaugh on January 5 that Franken “stole the race,” and quotes Limbaugh as saying on that same broadcast: “They are stealing the race up there blind in front of everybody’s nose. They are counting absentee ballots [which election officials are required to do by law].… They’re counting votes twice—votes that were rejected, all kinds of things [which election officials ordered after determining that some votes were rejected wrongly]. That’s just—the Democrats are stealing the election up there.” (The material in brackets is inserted by Conason.) Conason goes on to quote Republican political consultant Dick Morris, who appeared on O’Reilly’s show on January 7 and claimed: “I think there’s funny business—funny business going on in Franken’s thing. Sure, he’s cheating, and sure that Minnesota’s doing it for him. I mean, there’s no question that there’s cheating going on.… This is outright larceny. This is just a total theft.” Conason calls Morris’s accusations “incendiary,” and notes that like Limbaugh, Morris advanced no evidence to support his claims. As for O’Reilly, he has written columns on Newsmax asking readers to donate to the Republican National Lawyers Association to “stop Franken from stealing the election”; that organization is raising money to assist in Coleman’s election lawsuit (see January 7, 2009). Conason writes that the Canvassing Board, the bipartisan entity that decided the race in Franken’s favor, was “impeccably nonpartisan,” and continues, “Nobody in their right mind in Minnesota believes that the board was biased.” He cites conservative blogger Scott Johnson as saying: “There was no noticeable partisan division among the board. Minnesotans are justifiably proud of the transparency and fairness of their work.” Conason concludes: “In essence, [the right-wing pundits] have accused my friend Franken of a felony under Minnesota law. If they know of any evidence that would show he has stolen votes or violated any election statute, let them report it to the state law enforcement authorities. And if they don’t, perhaps they will at last have the decency to shut up.” [Salon, 1/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Bill O’Reilly, Dick Morris, Joe Conason, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Scott Johnson, Rush Limbaugh, Richard Mellon Scaife

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Al Franken (D-MN), declared the winner of the disputed US Senate race in Minnesota (see January 5, 2009), asks the Minnesota Supreme Court to order Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) to issue a signed certificate to allow him to take his seat in the Senate. Both Pawlenty and Ritchie have refused requests from Franken to issue the certificate, saying that Minnesota law requires them to wait until a lawsuit by Franken’s opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) is resolved (see January 7, 2009). Franken’s petition to the Minnesota high court contends that one part of Minnesota law requiring the issuance of a certificate holds sway over the portion of law Pawlenty and Ritchie have cited. Part of Franken’s argument cites a court precedence saying that the US Senate, and not an individual state, must choose whether to seat an elected official. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/12/2009; Minnesota Independent, 1/13/2009] The Coleman campaign issues the following statement regarding Franken’s request: “Al Franken knows he can’t win this election contest based on the major inconsistencies and discrepancies that were part of the recount, and his attempted power play today is evidence of that. He can’t and won’t be seated in a seat he didn’t win, so he is trying this underhanded attempt to blatantly ignore the will of Minnesotans and the laws of the state. The totals certified by the state Canvassing Board include double-counted votes, inconsistencies regarding rejected absentee ballots, and inconsistent handling of newly discovered and missing ballots. These are serious issues that both the canvassing board and the Minnesota Supreme Court directed be handled in an election contest, and that will go forward as required.” Coleman’s lead recount attorney, Fritz Knaak, adds to the heat generated by the Coleman campaign by calling the request an “incredible and rather astonishing” power play, “an unprecedented and futile charade,” an “arrogant move,” and “an insult to the process.” He continues: “Al Franken is not the winner. There is no winner, and there won’t be a winner until the process stipulated in Minnesota election law has been completed.” When the process is complete, Knaak says, “Norm Coleman will be back on top and back to the United States Senate. No one, not Al Franken, not [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, not the national Democrats can declare a winner in Minnesota before there’s an actual legal winner.… Today’s move by Al Franken signals his desperation.… Our voters and our laws matter too much to let politics try to influence the outcome of this election.” The Minnesota high court will refuse to issue the order. [MinnPost, 1/12/2009; Minnesota Independent, 1/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Harry Reid, Fritz Knaak, Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Supreme Court, Mark Ritchie

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

The lawsuit filed by former Senator Norm Coleman to block Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) from taking his seat in the US Senate (see January 7, 2009) is scheduled to begin on January 26. A three-judge panel will consider Coleman’s case and whether to reverse the findings of the state Canvassing Board, which declared Franken the winner (see January 5, 2009). [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/16/2009]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Minnesota State Canvassing Board

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

A three-judge panel rules that Al Franken (D-MN) is the legitimate winner of Minnesota’s hotly contested US senate seat (see November 4-5, 2008), ruling against Franken’s opponent, former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN—see January 26, 2009). Ironically, when the judges reviewed the ballots under consideration, Franken was awarded almost 100 more votes, setting his margin of victory at 312 votes. Coleman says he will appeal the decision, which will continue to block Franken from taking his seat in the Senate. [Associated Press, 4/14/2009]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

Al Franken (D-MN), who won the recount to become the junior US senator from Minnesota but who has been blocked from taking his seat by a legal challenge filed by his opponent, Norm Coleman (R-MN—see January 5, 2009 and January 7, 2009), asks the Minnesota Supreme Court to expedite Coleman’s legal challenge to the recount. Coleman is appealing the recent decision by a lower court to uphold the recount findings and declare Franken the winner of the race (see April 13, 2009). Franken won the recount by 312 votes. Franken’s lawyer David Lillehaug says in a court filing, “Because of the important public policy concern of ensuring that the interests of the citizens of Minnesota are properly represented in Congress, this appeal should be expedited.” Lillehaug is echoing concerns made by Franken and his campaign that Minnesota is suffering by having only one, and not two, sitting US senators. Coleman’s campaign says through a spokesperson that it will comply with a Supreme Court ruling; Coleman himself has said he wishes the process to move as quickly as possible. Franken wants oral arguments before the Minnesota high court to begin in early May, but Coleman’s lawyer James Langdon says those arguments probably will not begin until late May or early June. Minnesota’s version of the Democratic Party, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), has begun a “Give It Up, Norm” campaign prodding Coleman to concede the election. DFL official Brian Melendez says of Coleman, “If he fights this through to its bitter conclusion, he’ll be not only a sore loser but a permanent loser.” Minnesota Republican Party spokesperson Gina Countryman says, “The number that matters in this whole scenario is the number of voters that remain disenfranchised,” continuing Coleman’s argument that if the ballots were properly counted, he would have won the recount. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 4/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Brian Melendez, David Lillehaug, Gina Countryman, James Langdon, Minnesota Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) acknowledges his victory in front of his Minneapolis home. His wife Franni Franken looks on.Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) acknowledges his victory in front of his Minneapolis home. His wife Franni Franken looks on. [Source: Jeffrey Thompson / Getty Images / Zimbio]The Minnesota Supreme Court rejects Senate candidate Norm Coleman’s motion to reconsider the vote recount that found his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), the winner of the November 2008 Senate race (see January 5, 2009). Coleman, a Republican and the incumbent, concedes the election in a brief appearance after the ruling. Hours later, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) signs the election certificate for Franken, clearing the way for Franken to take his seat in the US Senate. “I can’t wait to get started,” Franken says. “I won by 312 votes, so I really have to earn the trust of the people who didn’t vote for me.” Coleman says he chose not to appeal to federal courts given the likelihood that the results would not have gone his way, and says he respects the high court’s decision. The court rejects Coleman’s contention that hundreds of absentee ballots ruled invalid should be counted, ruling that voters have the expectation of filling out the ballots properly and should understand that improperly completed ballots will be rejected. Franken’s seating gives Democrats a 60-vote majority in the Senate, theoretically giving them a “filibuster-proof majority” that would overcome Republican efforts to block legislation by refusing to allow cloture votes. However, Democrats rarely vote in unified “blocs” as Republicans often do, and two Senate Democrats, Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Robert Byrd (D-WV), are hospitalized and unable to cast votes. Franken will be seated after Congress’s July 4 recess. [Associated Press, 6/30/2009; Commercial Appeal (Memphis), 7/1/2009] Politico describes the ruling as “remarkably decisive, picking apart and rejecting one Coleman legal claim after another.” Law professor Larry Jacobs says, “Norm Coleman has gotten shellacked in the court room—by judges who were appointed by Pawlenty.” The Minnesota Republican Party protests the ruling, claiming that it “wrongly disenfranchised thousands of Minnesotans who deserve to have their votes counted,” but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he accepts the decision, stating: “While I am very disappointed in the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision today, I respect Norm’s decision not to pursue his case any further. After having more votes on Election Day, he made a great personal sacrifice to pursue an accurate account of the vote for Minnesotans. For that, and his dedicated service on behalf of Minnesota, he should be commended.” [Politico, 6/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Politico, Larry Jacobs, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Al Franken, Minnesota Republican Party, Minnesota Supreme Court, Robert C. Byrd, Mitch McConnell, Norm Coleman, Tim Pawlenty

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

The Minnesota Majority Legal Defense Fund logo. It is not known if the misspelling of “defend” is deliberate.The Minnesota Majority Legal Defense Fund logo. It is not known if the misspelling of “defend” is deliberate. [Source: Minnesota Majority / WePay (.com)]The conservative activist group Minnesota Majority issues a report claiming that Senator Al Franken (D-MN) won the hotly contested recount for the Minnesota seat (see June 30, 2009) because of votes cast by felons voting illegally in Minneapolis-St. Paul. According to the report, at least 341 convicted felons who had lost the right to vote cast their votes for Franken in the 2008 race (see November 4-5, 2008). Franken was found to have won the race by 312 votes. If the votes allegedly cast illegally were deducted from the final vote tally, Franken’s opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) would be the winner, the report says. Minnesota Majority makes its claim after studying publicly available conviction lists and voting records. The group claims that attempts to secure an investigation by state and federal authorities have been “stonewalled.” Minnesota Majority executive director Dan McGrath says: “We aren’t trying to change the result of the last election. That legally can’t be done. We are just trying to make sure the integrity of the next election isn’t compromised.” McGrath complains that prosecutors in Ramsey and Hennepin Counties have ignored their findings, including a list of hundreds of allegedly illegal voters from those counties. A spokesman for the county attorney’s offices says the group’s information is “just plain wrong” and full of errors. McGrath says the group went back and double-checked its records after being told that its findings were wrong. He says: “What we did this time is irrefutable. We took the voting lists and matched them with conviction lists and then went back to the records and found the roster lists, where voters sign in before walking to the voting booth, and matched them by hand. The only way we can be wrong is if someone with the same first, middle, and last names, same year of birth as the felon, and living in the same community, has voted. And that isn’t very likely.”
County Prosecutors: Group's Claims Largely Erroneous - Phil Carruthers, Ramsey County’s lead prosecutor, says his office is taking the allegations seriously and praises the group for doing “a good job in [its] review.” But, Carruthers notes, the group lacks access to nonpublic information, and that information shows that almost all of the names on the list are of eligible voters. For example, Carruthers says, “public records might show a felon was given 10 years probation, but internal records the county attorney has might show that the probation period was cut to five and the felon was eligible to vote.” Carruthers says Ramsey County is filing charges against 28 people for illegally voting, with more charges possible. McGrath says: “Prosecutors have to act more swiftly in prosecuting cases from the 2008 election to deter fraud in the future, and the state has to make sure that existing system, that flags convicted felons so voting officials can challenge them at the ballot, is effective. In 90 percent of the cases we looked at, the felons weren’t flagged. If the state had done that, things might be very different today.” [Fox News, 7/12/2010]
Governor Weighs In, Implying Franken Won Illegally - Two days after the allegations surface in the press, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) says the organization may have found “credible evidence” of voter fraud. On Fox News, Pawlenty says of the allegedly illegal votes: “I suspect they favored Al Franken. I don’t know that. But if that turned out to be true they may have flipped that election in a very close election.” Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund has stated flatly on Fox that “hundreds of felons” gave Franken the victory. But Carruthers tells a reporter, “Overwhelmingly, their statistics were not accurate.” Deputy Hennepin County Attorney Pat Diamond adds: “It’s produced a lot of smoke. But at the end of the day, I don’t know if it’s going to produce a lot of fire.” Carruthers says that the list of 480 suspected felons was obviously wrong from the outset, and 270 were removed upon a cursory review. Many other cases were examples of mistaken identity, or the list not taking into account felons who had their right to vote restored. The 28 cases flagged by Carruthers for potential prosecution had already been identified before he received Minnesota Majority’s list, he says. Diamond says much the same of the list of alleged illegal voters in Hennepin County.
Allegations Being Made for Political Purposes? - Local reporter John Croman notes that the allegations are being used by conservatives to push for restrictive voter ID laws. He writes: “Valid ID is needed to register, but not to vote. And yet both of the prosecutors [Carruthers and Diamond] pointed out there’s nothing to keep a felon from using legal ID to vote illegally.” While Minnesota Majority is blaming Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) for the alleged felon voting, Diamond says Ritchie has worked diligently to make the state’s voting rolls more accurate and current. “He’s gotten the system into this century, so it’s actually much easier to prevent felons from voting now,” Diamond says. “I’m going to trial in August with two cases of felons who voted, that were flagged by election workers.” Law professor David Schultz says Pawlenty’s response is surprising: “One, it makes an assumption that it’s been proven that these felons have voted illegally, which isn’t the case. And, two, it makes the assumption that these felons voted overwhelmingly in favor of Franken.” Schultz says he believes Pawlenty is posturing for his upcoming presidential bid: “There’s a certain segment of the population, people who believe Democrats can’t win unless felons and immigrants vote illegally. He’s trying to appeal to that group to further his presidential campaign.” But if that is the case, Schultz says, Pawlenty is casting aspersions on the integrity of Minnesota’s election system for political gain. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 7/14/2010; KARE-11, 7/15/2010]
Months Later, Six Charges Filed - In October 2010, six felons in Hennepin County will be charged with voting illegally (see October 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: Mark Ritchie, Dan McGrath, County of Ramsey (Minnesota), County of Hennepin (Minnesota), Al Franken, David Schultz, John Fund, Tim Pawlenty, John Croman, Pat Diamond, Norm Coleman, Minnesota Majority, Phil Carruthers

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda

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