ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Four months after Minnesota voters threw their Senate election into chaos, Democrat Al Franken's lawyers finalized papers Wednesday asking a court to bring an end to Republican Norm Coleman's lawsuit over the result.
Franken attorney Marc Elias said he would file the motion for dismissal Thursday and hoped it would be argued publicly on Friday. Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg characterized the move as "pawing of the ground and snorting of the breath."
Six weeks into trial, Ginsberg said serious doubts are being raised about the Nov. 4 election as each day passes, including questions about the trustworthiness of data in a key state voter database.
Meanwhile, Franken made a brief appearance at a Capitol awards ceremony a block away from the courthouse. He expressed confidence that the trial would go his way, but he declined to rule out an appeal if Coleman prevails.
"We're taking this one step at a time, but I anticipate that we're going to be happy with the court decision," Franken said.
Of Coleman's case, Franken said his opponent "has chosen to attack the Minnesota court system, to attack the elections officials and to try to erase Minnesota voters' votes. I know he's disappointed, but we've come through a fair election, a fair and very meticulous recount and we're going through now a very fair court challenge. I think it's time now that we address the people's business."
In his own comments to reporters on Tuesday, Coleman said the three-judge panel may not be able to determine who actually won. "Clearly there is a question about whether this court can certify who got the most legally cast ballots," he said.
After the automatic recount, Franken leads by 225 votes. Coleman's legal challenge is primarily focused on rejected absentee ballots. He is also trying to wipe out some Franken votes attached to alleged counting irregularities.
Coleman rested his case on Monday, and Franken's lawyers have used their first two days eliciting testimony from absentee voters whose ballots were rejected.
Richfield voter Kathleen Awes described how she cast her absentee ballot using the address she's lived at for 12 years. The possible glitch was her move to a new apartment in the same building, but she testified that she filled out a new registration card, holding her thumbs apart to illustrate its size.
Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg informed Awes on cross-examination that lack of proper registration led to the rejection. She told him she may have put it in the inner secrecy envelope containing the actual ballot, a place election officials might not have looked.
"Will my vote be counted?" Awes asked Friedberg as she was excused.
"You're going to have to ask those folks up there," he told her, pointing to the judges.
"We all want to know the answer to that question," Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton interjected.
Under a prior court order, secrecy envelopes possibly including registration cards will be opened soon to determine how many may have made the same mistake as Awes. The order said those voters are likely to have their ballots counted, assuming they met all other legal requirements.
It was originally believed that as many as 1,600 rejected absentee ballots could fall into that category, but the final number appears to be far less.
Jim Gelbmann, deputy secretary of state, said he will report to the court by Friday how many secrecy envelopes included valid registration cards. Even then, the absentee ballot could remain on the rejected pile if there were other reasons for turning it aside, Gelbmann said in an interview.
Gelbmann said searches conducted by counties and city election workers have found some of the ballots in question were actually accepted or the voter trumped their absentee ballot by showing up in person on Election Day. He said he won't give specific details on what the searches have turned up until he provides that information to the court.
Meanwhile, state elections director Gary Poser returned to the stand for the third time this week. Under questioning from Friedberg, Poser said there can be lag time between a person's registration and updates to a state database reflecting their voter status.
Counties, who input their own data, use the system to determine whether voters are registered. That process has undergone scrutiny because Coleman contends that errors in the database caused some voters to have absentee ballots rejected.
Asked by Friedberg if local officials could have relied on incorrect data when making critical decisions, Poser acknowledged it was "certainly possible."
Ginsberg said the revelation underscores his client's belief that many voters were wrongly disenfranchised and could still fall through the cracks.
"We were frankly shocked to get the information that the database we've all been relying on still is in incomplete form," he said.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)