Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

MN Senate Update: Franken Wins; Coleman to Appeal

Alright, for those outside the USA (and those who do not follow politics closely), here is the situation.  In the U.S., each state is supposed to have two senators. (A third of the U.S. Senate is elected every 6 years. It is expected to have less turnover than the House of Representatives, all 435 of whom must be reelected every two years.) But MN currently only has one senator, Amy Klobuchar.  Why?  Because last November, the election was too close to call. A third party candidate won just enough votes to make the contest between incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) (a former liberal, anti-Vietnam War protester who switched to the Republican Party out of sheer opportunism when they were winning–and still narrowly beat a dead man (the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) to win his senate seat in ’02!) and former comedian turned author and political commentator Al Franken (D-MN) into a virtual  tie.  On election night, Coleman was ahead by a little over 200 votes–so close that  it triggered an automatic recount under MN state  law, although Coleman called on Franken to concede for the sake of MN anyway.

An automatic machine recount narrowed Coleman’s lead even more and triggered a statewide hand recount.  This was scheduled for December.  It was overseen by a canvassing board equally composed of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents and done in full view under camera.  When all was finished in January,  Franken had taken the lead by 225 votes.  Then Norm Coleman sued Al Franken, claiming that many legally cast ballots were not counted.

The trial, conducted by a MN Election Court,  a 3-judge panel created by the MN Supreme Court,  lasted 7 weeks. Six of those weeks consisted of Coleman’s case which was, according to legal experts, ridiculous and constantly destroyed by the crack legal team assembled by Al Franken. (Franken had expected the election to be close and his campaign prepared for a recount and legal challenges, hiring the best election law lawyers in the state.) Franken’s team took only a week for a rebuttal.  Yesterday, the Election Court rendered its verdict. It agreed with Coleman that some ballots previously rejected should be counted:  the result was that Franken picked up more votes than Coleman and won with 312 votes.  The court rejected Coleman’s appeal to set aside state law and use more lenient standards to count more rejected absentee ballots.  The court said that Franken is entitled to have his election certified, but stopped short of ordering Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) to issue one.  The certificate is held up because Coleman has 10 days to file an appeal, and has said he would.

He is appealing to the MN Supreme Court on equal protection grounds.  Legal blogger Rick Hasen gives several reasons why it is unlikely that any appeal by Coleman will succeed.  However, Coleman can keep Franken from being seated while he continues to appeal.  (However, MN has a sore loser law.  Since Coleman sued Franken after the recount and lost, he has to pay all of Franken’s court costs and lawyer’s fees, plus his own.  So, he’s going to have to raise funds for any further appeals.)

Further wrinkles:  MN’s Supreme Court has 7 judges, the majority of whom are Republicans (but who have shown little patience with Coleman’s tactics during the recount).  2 of them were involved in the hand recount, so they have recused themselves.  A 3rd judge has been a donor to Coleman’s campaign and is being pressured to recuse himself!  That would leave 4 judges:  a potential tie!

Why is Coleman appealing when he has little chance of winning and the absence of full representation in the Senate is hurting MN?  Because Franken would be a 59th Democratic Senator,  meaning that Democrats would  need only 1 Republican vote in the U.S. Senate to break any attempted Republican filibuster.  So, the national Republican party is funding Coleman’s appeals in order to keep Franken from his seat.  But Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who is in charge of electing as many Republican senators as possible (he is chair of the National Republican Senate Committee), is spending huge sums on this one seat that he won’t have available for other GOP candidates in the 2010 mid-term elections.  Pressure is coming on Coleman to give up and on Gov. Pawlenty to issue Al Franken’s election certificate, even if Coleman decides to appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gov. Pawlenty has presidential hopes, but if he continues to drag this out, he could lose reelection as MN Governor.  As it is, if there was a new election today (which MN law does not allow and which the state cannot afford during this recession), Coleman would lose by an even larger margin.  Many of those who voted for him are now angry at Coleman’s refusal to bow to the inevitable and admit that he lost.

Is this any way to run a democracy?

UPDATE:  Public Policy Polling shows 63% of MN voters now think that Coleman should concede, while only 37% believe Coleman should appeal the Election Court’s decision.  That’s nearly 2:1 calling on Coleman to quit.  59% believe that Gov. Pawlenty should sign Franken’s election certificate and that Franken should be seated even if appeals continue.  It’s clear: MN voters are tired of this race. Even those who voted for Coleman believe he lost and think he would do better to quit now and challenge Franken again in 6 years.

So, they should put pressure on both Coleman and Pawlenty.  They have waited patiently through recounts and a court case. Now it’s time to protest outside Coleman’s home and the Governor’s office.


April 14, 2009 - Posted by | U.S. politics


  1. No.

    On the plus side, it sounds like MN law has prevailed. The system has worked thus far, albeit slowly and perhaps unnecessarily. The vote was a virtual tie, triggering a recount by law. That happened. The recount was, by all accounts, fair and responsible and the winner apparent. The system worked that far.

    Coleman’s challenge, and now a second challenge (and especially this second challenge) are where things seem to breaking down, to me. Give it up, fella.

    I like the Sore Loser law, I think, but perhaps it should be the case that the person has to pay for any repeat challenges out of his own pocket, not being funded by some giant corporation or political party.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | April 14, 2009

  2. In some senses, this is Coleman’s 4th challenge or more. During the hand recount, he kept running to the MN Supreme Court (which kept interrupting the process). The MN Supreme CT kept ruling very quickly against him. He kept charging bias, although most of the MN Supremes were GOP appointed.

    I seriously doubt the MN Supreme CT will reverse this very careful ruling by the election court it created. And if Coleman tries to appeal to federal court, (1) the feds are very reluctant to interfere in state matters, so finding a court that would even hear the case would be hard & (2) the U.S. Constitution states that the Senate is the final arbiter of its own membership so, once the MN Supreme CT orders Pawlenty to issue an election certificate, Reid will seat Franken and dare the GOP to filibuster over it. Then Coleman can appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court with Franken already seated.

    Yes, the GOP money machine is an issue. But it is not inexhaustable. In fact, from 2005 onward, the RNC has had difficulty raising funds. (This year both parties have had difficulty fundraising in the recession.) So, while they gain in the short-term holding up Franken, they may decide to quit because this is taking money they need for campaigns elsewhere. Eventually, this is not worth it–especially as they are losing in the court of public opinion. Even the National Review and Wall Street Journal are now calling for Coleman to concede!

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 14, 2009

  3. If the Republicans want to exhaust their funds on a losing battle, so be it. I hope I never hear another word from them about Gore being a sore loser in 2000. Between this mess, the “Obama isn’t a citizen” neanderthals, the “tea parties,” and “praying for failure,” they have no room to talk.

    Comment by Ralph Reed | April 14, 2009

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