Finally, Senator Al Franken

After a ballot counting process that went though all four seasons (election day was fall and it is now summer), Norm Coleman has conceded after the Minnesota Supreme Court rule unanimously in Al Franken’s favor.  He is now the winner by 312 votes.

According to the New York Times

Mr. Coleman’s announcement followed a unanimous state Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday in Mr. Franken’s favor. There, the case had centered, in part, around whether some absentee ballots had been wrongly excluded and standards had been inconsistent, as Mr. Coleman contended.

But in their 5-0 ruling, the court found that Mr. Coleman had failed to prove that “the trial court’s findings of fact are clearly erroneous or that the court committed an error of law or abused its discretion.”

Franken represents vote 60 for the Democratic Caucus.  According to TPM

Franken said that the country faces many challenges in the economy and world affairs. “So even though Franni and I are thrilled and honored by the faith that Minnesotans have placed in me, I’m also humbled,” he said, “not just by the closeness of this election, but also by the enormity of the responsibilities that come with this office.”

He also said that much has been talked about, that he’ll be the 60th Democratic Senator. “The way I see it, I’m not going to wash[ington] to be the 60th democratic senator. I’m going to washington to be the second senator from minnesota, and that’s how I’m going to do this job,” he said, to the applause of his supporters.

Al Wins the Vote

The three judges counting the votes have declared Al Franken ahead by 312 votes.  The Washington Post  reports

A Minnesota court confirmed Monday that Democrat Al Franken won the most votes in his 2008 Senate race against Republican Norm Coleman, who had already announced plans to appeal the decision.

Coleman has 10 days to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Once the petition is filed, it could further delay the seating of Minnesota’s second senator for weeks.

After a statewide recount and seven-week trial, Franken stands 312 votes ahead. He gained more votes from the election challenge than Coleman, the candidate who brought the legal action.

“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.”

So now Coleman can appeal, but there appear to be some potential problems looming there.  TPM reported ealier today that one of the judges on the Minnesota Supreme Court contributed to the Coleman campaign.

In the years before he was appointed to the state bench, Christopher Dietzen was a private attorney and occasional Republican donor, including a check for $250 to Coleman in December 2001, and another $250 for the current cycle in January 2004. The Hill also points out Dietzen served as a campaign counsel for GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty, during the 2002 open-seat race.

A spokesman for the state Supreme Court told TPM that no information is available about any possible recusal. Since there hasn’t been an actual ruling in the trial, much less the filing of an appeal, we don’t know and cannot predict what would happen.

The contributions were made before appointment which may make a difference.  In addition Eric Kleefeld, the author of the story points out

The question here is the degree to which Dietzen’s pre-judicial activities might impact the legitimacy of the proceedings. For my own part, having watched all the legal arguments in this election, I haven’t noticed any severe or obvious political bias on Dietzen’s part — he has sometimes ruled against Franken, and sometimes ruled against Coleman. And he’s pitched tough questions at both sides.

The whole Minnesota Senate election gets curiouser and curiouser.

Latest on Al Franken’s Election

TPM has posted a summary of the latest ruling by the Minnesota elections court. 

The Minnesota election court has just handed down a much-awaited ruling, laying out which previously-rejected ballots might just be counted yet — and though it’s unclear right now whose votes are whose, it doesn’t look all that good for Norm Coleman.

It looks as if, after a very thorough review, the Court is going to look at only 400 ballots to determine if they should be counted. 

Both campaigns submitted lists of ballots that they said they’d proven were legal and ought to be counted — and here’s what the court thought of them:

“Upon the Court’s initial review, it became apparent that the parties’ spreadsheets identifying the relevant exhibits were inadequate and unreliable. This required the Court to complete an exhaustive review of all the records and documents submitted by either party throughout the course of the entire trial.”

The court thus reviewed:

“…19,181 pages of filings, including pleadings, motions and legal memoranda from the parties; 1,717 individual exhibits admitted into evidence; and testimony from 142 witness examinations, including election officials from 38 Minnesota counties and cities and 69 voters who appeared and testified in defense of their ballots. The trial evidence comprised exhibits offered in three-ring binders that, when stacked, equaled over 21 feet of paper copies.”

Don’t think they’re just complaining about the length — not that anybody would blame them. The court is clearly establishing the level of diligence they went to in order to decide the questions at hand — thus guarding themselves against any appeal on procedural grounds.

As I understand the process, the ballots will be reviewed  by the Secretary of Stae to make sure they are complete and can be counted and however many of the 400 ballots pass muster will then be counted.  So I think one can assume that not all of the 400 will be counted and not all of the ballots that are counted will go to Norm Coleman.  Therefore this is bad news for Norm given that Al Franken has at least a 225 vote lead.

One of the commentators to TPM wrote

If all 400 ballots were counted, Coleman would need a 313-87 split to overtake Franken. There’d be about a 1 in a million chance of the votes breaking in Coleman’s favor like that. Ans since not all 400 ballots will be counted, so I think it’s safe to say that Coleman is finished.

If all this is true, Al Franken may be (finally!) just a few days from being Senator Al.