Yes – Al Franken is now the official winner, and will soon take his seat as the junior senator from Minnesota. Our community media partners, the Minnesota Independent and The Uptake, have followed the ups and downs of the almost-eight-months since election day. Here are Minnesota Independent stories of today’s unanimous Minnesota Supreme Court decision naming Al Franken as the winner, of Norm Coleman’s concession speech, and of the future that awaits Senator Al Franken in Washington. For the video history of the recount, check out The Uptake.
By Mike Lillis, Minnesota Independent
Al Franken, soon to be the junior senator from Minnesota, is no stranger to controversy after spending the last eight months fighting Sen. Norm Coleman over the results of last November’s election. But if Franken thinks he’ll find things any more restful in Washington, he should think again.
That’s because the soon-to-be-sworn-in freshman is slated to take seats on both the Senate Judiciary and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committees — the two panels that just happen to be on the front lines of the Democrats’ priorities for the rest of the year.
First, there’s the thorny debate over health care reform, which the HELP committee has already officially begun — but which also remains a long way from over. Then there’s the process to seat Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court, which will launch in the Judiciary panel. And finally, there’s the ideologically charged battle over the labor-friendly Employee Free Choice Act, a fight set to begin this summer in the HELP Committee.
Franken will also sit on the Special Committee on Aging and the Indian Affairs panel.
Mike Lillis is a Congress reporter at the Washington Independent.
By Paul Demko, Minnesota Independent
Minnesota’s interminable U.S. Senate race is finally over. Nearly eight months after election day, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled today that Democrat Al Franken prevailed by 312 votes over Republican Norm Coleman. The ruling prompted Coleman to finally concede the contest. Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced shortly thereafter that he will sign an election certificate for Franken today.
“Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled … to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator from the State of Minnesota,” the court concluded.
In plain language, the five-member court meticulously shot down Coleman’s arguments as to why a three-judge panel erred in determining that Franken won the contest. In particular, it found fault with the former senator’s claim that local election officials violated the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by utilizing different standards in determining which absentee ballots should be rejected.
“Coleman neither claims nor produced any evidence that the differing treatment of absentee ballots among jurisdictions during the election was the result of intentional or purposeful discrimination against individuals or classes,” the court noted. “Nor does Coleman claim that the trial court’s February 13 order, establishing certain categories of ballots as not legally cast, was the product of an intent to discriminate against any individual or class.”
The court also rejected Coleman’s contention that he was egregiously harmed by the trial court’s unwillingness to examine some evidence of mishandled ballots.
“We conclude that the trial court ruled correctly that Minnesota law provides no remedy for wrongly accepted absentee ballot return envelopes once those envelopes have been opened and the ballots inside deposited in the ballot box,” the opinion stated.
Shortly after the ruling was released, Coleman called a press conference at his St. Paul home and announced that he had phoned Franken to congratulate him on his victory. “Further litigation damages the unity of our state,” he said.
Coleman’s case from board to panel to Supreme Court
The extraordinarily close election — with roughly 2.4 million ballots cast, and a margin of difference of less than 0.1 percent — dragged on for more than seven months as various election officials and judges sought to determine the accurate winner of the contest. Norm Coleman initially emerged with a precarious 725-vote lead. But even before a mandatory statewide recount began, the Republican’s lead began to wither. The reason? Mistakes made by local officials on election night. For instance, Franken gained 100 votes in Partridge Township when election officials there determined that they’d mistakenly entered the Democrat’s vote tally as 24 on election night instead of 124.
By the time local election officials and campaign volunteers began the tedious, state-mandated process of re-counting every single ballot by hand, Coleman’s lead had shrunk to just 215 votes. That margin continued to dwindle throughout the month-long process, which was overseen by a four-judge panel appointed by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Finally on Jan. 5, the Statewide Canvassing Board unanimously ruled that Franken had won the contest by 225 votes.
But this would prove to be merely another phase in the contest. Coleman appealed to the state courts, as is his right under Minnesota’s election laws. His primary argument: local election officials used wildly varying standards in determining which absentee ballots were included in the vote tally, a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
A three-judge panel, picked by Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, spent seven weeks hearing the case. They reviewed 19,000 pages of legal pleadings, 1,717 individual exhibits and testimony from 142 witnesses before ratifying Franken’s victory. The margin: 312 votes.
Coleman then appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court. From the outset, legal observers argued that Coleman faced grim odds in seeking to overturn the trial court’s decision.
Today’s ruling ratified that prevailing sentiment. In addition to rejecting Coleman’s arguments with regards to the Equal Protection Clause, the court shot down the Republican’s contention that some ballots were double-counted and that 132 missing Minneapolis ballots were wrongly included in the final vote tally.
“The ballots are missing, but Coleman introduced no evidence of foul play or misconduct, and the election day precinct returns are available to give effect to those votes,” the ruling notes. “We hold that the trial court did not err in ruling that the election day precinct returns for Minneapolis Ward 3, Precinct 1, were properly included in the tally of legally cast votes.”
Coleman faces an uncertain political future. Some have suggested he might be eyeing Pawlenty’s job — a post he unsuccessfully sought in 1998. But the nasty, multimillion-dollar 2008 campaign, followed by the never-ending election contest, has left both Franken and Coleman bruised.
The Supreme Court case was heard by justices Alan Page, Paul Anderson, Helen Meyer, Christopher Dietzen and Lorie Skjervern Gildea. Justices Eric Magnuson and G. Barry Anderson recused themselves from the case because they both served on the Statewide Canvassing Board that initially certified Franken the winner.
By Paul Demko, Minnesota Independent
Norm Coleman has conceded. The former senator called Al Franken this afternoon to congratulate him on his victory nearly eight months after election day. The concession came shortly after the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a ruling naming Franken the winner in the protracted contest.
“I’m really at peace,” Coleman told reporters at a press conference at his St. Paul home. “I’ve had a lot of time to process this election, think about the past and look to the future. So I really have a sense of peace for where things are at.”
Coleman vowed to work with Franken as he becomes Minnesota’s junior senator. He insisted that the fact that Franken will become the 60th Democratic senator — giving President Obama a filibuster-proof majority — played no role in his decision-making process. “Whatever I can do now to be a unifying force that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.
Coleman professed to have no immediate plans — other than going fishing. Some political observers have speculated that he might turn around and run for governor.
“I haven’t made a decision yet about the future,” he said. The Republican stated that he would likely have more to say on that subject as soon as next week.
Minnesota has had just one senator since January, when Coleman’s first term expired. Gov. Tim Pawlenty also announced that he will sign an election certificate for Franken today, clearing the way for him to be seated in Washington.
“The Minnesota Supreme Court has today addressed the issues surrounding the accuracy and integrity of our election system during the 2008 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota,” Pawlenty said in a statement. “In light of that decision and Senator Coleman’s announcement that he will not be pursuing an appeal, I will be signing the election certificate today as directed by the court and applicable law.”