The Minnesota Supreme Court has handed down its much-expected ruling in the heavily-litigated Minnesota Senate race from 2008 — and it’s a unanimous one — deciding against Republican former Sen. Norm Coleman’s appeal of his defeat in the election trial and affirming the lower court’s verdict that Democratic comedian Al Franken is the legitimate winner of the race.
The courts finds that “Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled under Minn. Stat. Â§ 204C.40 (2008) to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator from the State of Minnesota.” This means that when Franken is ultimately seated, the Democrats will have 60 seats and be able to beat any Republican filibuster if they stay completely united (though good luck with that, obviously.)
It’s been seven and a half months since Election Day, and five and a half months since the seat went vacant after Coleman’s term expired — but the state’s process of recounts and litigation is now over, barring the unlikely event of a higher authority stepping in and forcing them to do more. Franken has won by 312 votes, out of roughly 2.9 million — a difference of 0.011%.
The big question now is what comes next. Will Coleman concede, or will he take another path — as national GOP leaders like Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) have urged — and take this to federal courts, where he might try to get an injunction against Franken receiving a certificate of election? And if Franken does get his certificate, will the Senate GOP attempt to filibuster its acceptance?Coleman’s core issue during the litigation has been that more rejected absentee ballot envelopes that his campaign has identified should have been counted, and that the 14th Amendment requires the state to adopt a less strict standard for admitting these votes in. The rationale here is that various counties were lax in enforcing certain legal requirement, and therefore deficiencies in other ballots must be excused.
His campaign picked out about 4,400 out of 11,000 total outstanding ballots — and has made the interesting claim that they don’t know what’s in these envelopes. It’s very clear to any rational observer that both sides engaged in cherry-picking in selecting rejected ballots. And their claim was always a tough legal road to take.
The other possibility that they’ve floated throughout this process at various times is that it’s impossible to truly know who won this election, and therefore the result should be thrown out (“set aside,” in their words).
We’ll see whether the national GOP goes to the mat any more than they already have for any or all of these claims, and how much longer this can get held up. Believe it or not, this is not actually yet the longest ongoing dispute over a Senate election since direct voting was brought in — that “honor” belongs to the 1974 New Hampshire Senate race, which left the seat vacant through August 1975, when a temporary appointment was made, and then had a do-over election in September 1975.