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Published May 15, 2009, 02:55 PM

Coleman says more ballots should be presumed valid

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican Norm Coleman on Friday gave Minnesota's Supreme Court a roadmap for counting more rejected absentee ballots in his disputed Senate race with Democrat Al Franken, asking justices to give voters the benefit of the doubt.

By: BRIAN BAKST, Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican Norm Coleman on Friday gave Minnesota's Supreme Court a roadmap for counting more rejected absentee ballots in his disputed Senate race with Democrat Al Franken, asking justices to give voters the benefit of the doubt.

In Coleman's final brief with the court, his lawyers argue the court should apply state standards for counting absentee ballots with an eye toward accepting them as Election Day judges did, rather than the more rigid view used in the trial that followed a statewide recount.

Franken is 312 votes ahead. Coleman said he can take the lead if justices deem more ballots legitimate.

"Applying the standard used on election night to all remaining rejected absentee ballots does not mean the court would be turning a blind eye to the statutory requirements," the former senator's lawyers wrote. Instead, they said it would acknowledge that some election officials were looser in their application of state law.

Coleman wants as many as 4,400 more ballots added to the race. They are among a pool of nearly 12,000 absentee ballots turned away on or before Election Day.

Minnesota has four reasons for rejecting a ballot: the voter wasn't registered, they failed to sign the ballot, their witness wasn't qualified and they cast another ballot.

Coleman wants the court to presume that a voter who got an absentee ballot was registered, their witness was authorized and they put their genuine signature on it.

He has long contended that officials in some places took a harder reading of the law than others, meaning ballots ruled eligible in one county would be disqualified in another.

"In sum, the record confronts the court with indisputable evidence that this deliberate, disparate treatment of voters was significant enough to affect the outcome," Coleman's brief said.

Coleman's side said more outstanding ballots are from areas Coleman won than areas where Franken prevailed, although they haven't offered anything other than a geographical analysis.

There is no deadline for a ruling after the June 1 oral arguments.

Coleman could try to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court if he loses this round.

A Franken win would give Democrats and aligned independents 60 votes in the Senate. That's the number needed to cut off unfettered debate known as filibusters.

In a brief Monday, Franken's attorneys said counties reasonably interpreted statewide standards on absentee ballots. They said any errors were minor.

Franken asked the high court to instruct Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty to issue an election certificate, the gateway document needed to fill the vacant seat.

Coleman hasn't addressed the certificate issue in his filings. "The court will do what the court does and that's fine by us," Ginsberg said in a Friday conference call with reporters.

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