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Judges deliberating in Minn. Senate battle

Minnesota Senate
Republican Norm Coleman, left, with attorney Tony Trimble, says hundreds of rejected absentee ballots should be counted.Jim Mone / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Judges began deliberating Friday in the dispute over Minnesota’s vacant Senate seat, where they must decide if Republican Norm Coleman proved there were enough flaws in the election and a recount to invalidate Democrat Al Franken’s 225-vote recount win.

Attorneys for both candidates delivered closing arguments earlier Friday, capping a seven-week trial that painstakingly dissected the closest Senate election in American history.

Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton argued that Coleman, a former senator, had failed to offer enough evidence to enable him to overcome his Democratic challenger’s lead.

“Their failure of proof is simply breathtaking,” Hamilton said.

But Coleman’s side urged the judges to give hundreds of voters whose absentee ballots were rejected the benefit of the doubt.

“All we need to prove, under your strict compliance standard, is that it is more likely than not that inside the envelope dwells the franchise of a proper voter,” Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg said. “More likely than not.”

Stearns County Judge Elizabeth Hayden, one of three judges hearing the case, hinted earlier Friday that it could take some time.

“We have tried very hard not to make rulings in haste,” she said.

The loser can appeal the panel’s verdict directly to the Supreme Court, or can launch a new lawsuit in federal court. And even those courts may not have the final say, because the rules of the U.S. Senate give it final approval over the seating of its members.

Coleman’s side gave the court a list of 1,360 rejected ballots it believes to be valid. Hamilton said Coleman’s team had proven its case on only six of them. By comparison, Hamilton argued that Franken’s side had shown that 252 of its rejected ballots deserved counting.

Hamilton said the trial had seen 134 witnesses and 2,182 exhibits during 35 days in court. The binders and copies, he said, have “piled up like snowdrifts on the bookshelves, tables and floors of this courtroom.”