- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

ST. PAUL, MINN. (AP) - Republican Norm Coleman will appeal his latest setback in the Minnesota Senate election battle but probably not until next week, his lawyer said Tuesday, further stretching out the five-month struggle.

The former senator has 10 days to ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to review Monday night’s decision, which was in favor of Democrat Al Franken. Coleman lawyer Ben Ginsberg said his team needs time to fully review the decision before filing the appeal.

A three-judge panel ruled unanimously that Franken won 312 more votes than incumbent Coleman in November and should get an election certificate. Franken actually gained more votes from the election challenge than Coleman, who brought the lawsuit.

“The overwhelming weight of the evidence indicates that the November 4, 2008 election was conducted fairly, impartially, and accurately,” the judges wrote. “There is no evidence of a systematic problem of disenfranchisement in the state’s election system, including in its absentee-balloting procedures.”

Coleman’s lawyers claim that counties treated absentee ballots differently, creating constitutional problems.

“We feel (the judges) have misunderstood a number of the issues as well as what’s at stake in this case,” Ginsberg said.

Minnesota is short a senator while the case moves through the courts.

The trial gobbled up much of January, February and March. An appeal could push the race into May or beyond, because once a notice of appeal is filed both sides will have more time to submit written arguments. It’s possible for Coleman to initiate a new action in federal court, too.

On Monday night, Franken stood outside his Minneapolis condominium building and urged Coleman to give up.

“It’s time that Minnesota, like every other state, have two” senators, the jovial Franken said. “I would call on Senator Coleman to allow me to get to work for the people of Minnesota as soon as possible.”

The state law Coleman sued under merely required three judges to determine who got the most votes and is therefore entitled to an election certificate. That critical certificate is on hold pending appeal, and GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty has hedged when asked if he’ll deliver it after the state courts are done reviewing the case.

Ginsberg said he believes 4,400 unopened absentee ballots should count, and called Monday’s ruling “inconsistent with the Minnesota tradition of enfranchising voters.”

But Rick Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who runs an election law blog, called it “a careful, unanimous opinion” that is “unlikely to be disturbed on appeal.”

Coleman had won the Senate seat in dramatic fashion in 2002, narrowly defeating former Vice President Walter Mondale, who had been a senator before becoming vice president. Mondale had stepped forward when Democratic incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash shortly before the election.

Franken, who made his name as a “Saturday Night Live” performer in the 1980s, entered the race against Coleman more than two years ago. The liberal former talk radio host and author outlasted other Democrats vying for the seat. He then overcame several stumbles to catch Coleman in the race’s final weeks.

A third-party candidate’s strong showing left Coleman and Franken virtually deadlocked on Election Night, triggering an automatic recount of 2.9 million ballots. Coleman actually led by about 700 votes before routine double-checking of figures by local officials trimmed his edge to 215 votes heading into the hand recount.

Franken pulled ahead of Coleman in late December, and by the recount’s end in early January he was up by 225 votes. Days after Coleman’s single term expired, the former senator sued over the recount.

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