Coleman campaign says Franken attempt to use Beltrami voter disappointing

Democrat Al Franken campaign's misaligned use of an 84-year-old Beltrami County woman's reported absentee ballot rejection to file a statewide lawsuit is "both troubling and disappointing," Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman's campaign manager sai...

Democrat Al Franken campaign's misaligned use of an 84-year-old Beltrami County woman's reported absentee ballot rejection to file a statewide lawsuit is "both troubling and disappointing," Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman's campaign manager said late Friday.

The Franken campaign on Thursday filed a lawsuit in Ramsey County District Court to force all 87 Minnesota counties to release lists with names and addresses of voters who had their absentee ballots rejected and the reason for the rejection.

At a State Capitol news conference, the Franken campaign based the need for the lawsuit on what they said was an 84-year-old woman who lives in a Beltrami County nursing home who had her ballot rejected because her ballot signature didn't match her signature on file. She told a Franken campaign worker, however, that she had a stroke, causing her signature to be different.

Beltrami County Auditor-Treasurer Kay Mack, however, told the Bemidji Pioneer that of 69 rejected absentee ballots in county voting, none were rejected because signatures didn't. She also doubted that there was a ballot rejected from an 84-year-old woman, but thought one was for an 87-year-old woman who lived in an assisted living facility, not a nursing home.

"Beltrami County does not have one ballot that was rejected because signatures didn't match," Mack told the Pioneer Thursday evening, "The Franken campaign was clearly told that -- I do not know where they're getting that from."


When questioned about the discrepancy later Thursday night, the Franken campaign backed off from the story, and said it would investigate.

"Late (Thursday), our staff spoke with the woman and with the Beltrami County auditor, and we learned that, in fact, it was an issue with the witness signature portion of the ballot that led to its rejection," a Franken campaign statement said Friday.

"This woman, like many others, tried to do everything right to cast her vote despite difficult circumstances, and our lawsuit is an attempt to get to the bottom of why votes like these aren't being counted," it said.

About a dozen counties complied with the Franken campaign request for a list of rejected absentee ballots, but the lawsuit is to prompt compliance from all counties.

"The Franken campaign maintains its position that every vote properly cast should be counted, but our lawsuit does not seek to have these ballots counted -- rather, we just want to know what absentee ballots were rejected," said the Franken campaign. "In response, in keeping with their strategy to disenfranchise voters, the Coleman campaign opposed our efforts, accusing us of wanting to 'strong arm local officials into counting invalid ballots' and 'shove more rejected ballots into the ballot box.' This is preposterous -- our lawsuit merely seeks access to data. What's more, the Coleman campaign has sought the exact same data."

At stake is the U.S. Senate seat now held by Coleman. A State Canvassing Board will certify the results of the Nov. 4 election when it meets on Tuesday, unofficial results that has Coleman winning by 206 votes from 2.92 million cast.

"While we are not sure what there is to investigate since election officials state they have absolutely no record of such an individual, we do know that this fabricated story was presented to the media and the public as fact, when it was known to be fiction," Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan said in a late Friday statement.

"In fact, there are serious questions, based upon news reports, as to whether or not such an individual even exists," he said. "We are now learning that the Franken campaign had likely been notified of this matter prior to their press conference, and yet, went forward and provided the media and the public with known false information."


Sheehan also cited a Bemidji Pioneer report, quoting Mack, that had the Franken campaign sending affidavits to those with rejected absentee ballots. In one case, a ballot was rejected because the voter didn't sign the back of the envelope as required by law but the affidavit asked the voter to swear that "the eligibility certificate reflects my name and address and bears my genuine signature."

"So even though we told them on the spreadsheet it didn't have his signature on there, they're sending him an affidavit and having him sign something that says it did have his signature on it," Mack said.

"(Fri)day, the Franken campaign said they are 'investigating' the matter further," Sheehan said. "We believe that this new information is both troubling and disappointing, and applaud local election officials in Beltrami County for efforts to ensure a fair, legal and transparent election."

"We are confident that the secretary of state will issue rules that provide for a fair and smooth recount," Franken campaign spokesman Andy Barr said Friday. "We do, however, have concerns that the Coleman campaign continues to oppose measures that we believe will avert the disenfranchisement of Minnesota voters. We will continue to fight for the rights of Minnesotans to have their voices heard."

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