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Judges Refuse Minn. Ballot Inspection

A trio of judges rejected Republican Norm Coleman's request to investigate alleged vote-counting irregularities in precincts around the state over the weekend, just days before they begin hearing Coleman's lawsuit over the Minnesota Senate recount.

Coleman's lawyers identified 86 precincts where they said problems may have contributed to Democrat Al Franken's 225-vote lead after the recount. Coleman is suing to overturn the result.

The judges said Coleman didn't prove that the inspections were necessary to prepare for the trial, which starts Monday and is expected to last weeks.

"The court is not convinced that another inspection of the ballots is efficient or needed to prepare for trial," the judges wrote.

Coleman's lawyers had said they wanted inspectors to have access not just to ballots but to voter rolls, in order to figure out why in some precincts more people were listed as having voted than there were actual votes. But the judges wrote that state law doesn't allow that.

If Coleman's lawyers "want to review voter rolls and other election materials at a precinct, they will have to obtain it by subpoena or other available means," the judges wrote. Coleman's attorneys had said earlier they would subpoena witnesses if necessary.

Franken's attorneys had argued Coleman's request was a fishing expedition for votes.

In other court action Friday, lawyers for both candidates asked the judges to whittle down the issues to be considered during the trial. Their requests for summary judgment ask the judges to decide that some of the issues don't need to be proven in court.

But the campaigns want different issues removed from the mix. Franken's lawyers asked the judges to reject Coleman's claims that vote irregularities made the recount totals unreliable in several precincts.

In one such case, the state Canvassing Board handled 133 missing ballots from one Minneapolis precinct by using the vote count from election night. In the other, election officials in Maplewood found 171 ballots during the recount that weren't counted on election night, and added them to the final count.

Franken's lawyers argued that both situations were handled properly and within the bounds of state law. "They found errors and they corrected them. That's what recounts are for," said David Burman, a Franken attorney.

But Coleman's attorneys said both situations raised questions that can only be answered during the trial process.

In their own claim for summary judgment, the Coleman team asked the judges to allow the counting of about 4,500 absentee ballots that were rejected by local elections officials for reasons Coleman alleges were inconsistent from one county to another. In some cases, Coleman's lawyers said, the reason for rejection was as simple as election workers accidentally covering the voter's signature on the ballot envelope with a sticker.

"They were votes by eligible voters who should have their votes counted - regardless of who they voted for," Coleman attorney Jim Langdon said.

Franken's attorneys argued that all those absentee ballots were rejected for reasons that are valid under state law, and that Coleman didn't seek to restore those votes until he fell behind Franken in the recount.

The judges are likely to rule on the motions for summary judgment early next week.

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