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Norm Coleman seems weary during a hearing regarding his election lawsuit Friday in St. Paul. AP Photo/Star-Tribune,Elizabeth Flores

Voters at center of trial's early days

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ST. PAUL -- It is about voters, not the candidates, Norm Coleman's campaign argued in the opening week of Minnesota's Senate election trial.

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Coleman is attempting to show the three judges presiding over the trial that his lawsuit challenging Al Franken's victory in the statewide Senate recount boils down to Minnesotans' right to have their valid votes counted.

So during the trial's first five days, the campaign brought more than a half-dozen voters to testify that their absentee ballots were rejected when they should have been counted.

The campaigns have separate lists of additional voters and local election officials who they could call to testify in the coming weeks. Each list contains about 150 names.

The trial resumes Monday morning.

"We think this case has come to be about the voters' interest and not either candidate's interests," Coleman attorney Jim Langdon told the judges Friday during a discussion of whether some absentee ballots should be counted.

Franken attorney Marc Elias dismissed the notion that each side just wants favorable votes counted.

"I think everyone in that courtroom is working to make sure this trial plays out in as fair a fashion as possible," Elias said.

Each campaign claimed several hundred rejected absentee ballots were wrongly discarded and should be counted in the trial, but they brought different piles to the trial.

Coleman's campaign now wants the three-judge panel to review all 11,000 uncounted rejected absentee ballots for possible counting. It said counties did not use a uniform standard when reviewing absentee ballots. Franken attorneys have tried to show that Coleman's position on absentee ballots changed when he lost the vote lead during the recount.

The candidates have an obvious interest in the outcome. Coleman, a Republican whose Senate term ended Jan. 3, is fighting for a second six-year term. Franken, who entered the trial after the recount showed that he gained 225 votes more than Coleman, is trying to make an unusual jump from a career in comedy to elected office.

"The bottom line is this race clearly is far from over," Coleman told reporters Friday. "There are going to be ... additional votes counted. I don't know who they voted for but their votes are out there and they were valid votes and they were registered and they have a right for their vote to be counted and not cast aside by some technicality or some lawyer's pleading."

Two groups of voters asked the court Friday to have their rejected absentee ballots opened and counted because they were wrongly discarded in the election. One group of 61 voters is backed by Democrat Franken. The second is a group of seven voters that may include Coleman and Franken votes, said Bruce Kennedy, the group's attorney.

One ballot from the Franken-backed group of 61 belongs to Shirley VanDyck of Cass Lake. Attorney Charlie Nauen said VanDyck's absentee ballot was rejected in the election because her signature on the ballot envelope did not match her signature on the absentee ballot application.

Nauen said the problem arose because VanDyck has Lou Gehrig's disease and has trouble signing her name, so had her daughter sign the application.

During the recount, when some wrongly rejected absentee ballots were included in the tally, the Coleman campaign blocked it from being included.

Each campaign had veto authority over which absentee ballots were included.

VanDyck signed a document prepared by Franken supporters to request her vote be counted.

"She made sure that she herself signed her ballot," Nauen said.

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For U.S. Senate trial information, along with other political updates, visit www.areavoices.com/CapitolChat

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