Earlier today, I had a chance to speak with Senator Norm Coleman, who did a few media contacts today as part of the effort in his election contest. Despite the several setbacks Coleman has had in the weeks since Election Night, he remains cheerful and engaged, and certainly the decisions in the election contest has given him reason for optimism. He’s even enjoying the election contest itself, Coleman told me, saying “I actually feel good when I’m in court and I watch folks come forward and say, ‘yeah, I want my vote counted’.”
I asked about what now looks like overconfidence Minnesotans had in the electoral process, and Coleman said that the problems in the aftermath of the election surprised him as well. “I shared that sense of pride,” Coleman said, “but this has been an eye-opener, Ed.” Coleman says he’s shocked that Minnesota had thousands of voters who assumed that they cast valid votes but didn’t get counted. He emphasized several times during the call that he felt obligated to continue fighting to ensure that those votes get counted now, and in the future. Coleman said that his election contest has brought out several problems in the process, and the state legislature will have to work to correct all of the holes, especially in the absentee process. Only by exposing these problems, Coleman says, will we get them fixed.
While Coleman prefers to look forward, I did ask him about whether he’s learned anything about strategic decisions made by his campaign during the recount. I asked him if he would do things differently now, looking back, and Coleman said, “Yes, I think it’s fair to say that. We began this process thinking that recounts were a recounting of votes actually cast on Election Night. I think the Franken folks very quickly seized on the [rejected] absentee ballot issue, even those weren’t counted on election night. ” They got caught by surprise by this focus, and had to play catch-up, as Franken’s team worked a small, targeted group of rejected absentee ballots.
Now, though, they’re focused on making sure that all wrongly-rejected absentee ballots get counted, while Franken tries to close the door after taking the lead. Coleman insists that “there are thousands more ballots to be counted,” and that when they are, “we’ll be back in the same position as on Election Night, ahead in the count.” If Franken still leads after a “fair counting of the ballots,” Coleman will not appeal to federal courts. However, if he finds “clear and obvious violation of due process” (after I mentioned Bush v Gore), Coleman will continue to pursue legal remedies to get a fair count of the ballots.
Coleman reminded me that he spent several years as Minnesota’s Solicitor General, and understands the constitutional issues very clearly. In fact, Coleman frequently attends the court sessions in person and stays on top of all the legal arguments. He has hired a top-flight attorney (Democrat Joe Friedberg, actually) and expects to prevail on the merits — and thus far, most of the decisions made so far have borne out his optimism.
I asked Coleman about the stimulus package and if he found it frustrating to be on the sidelines during this national debate, especially since Coleman had worked to forge bipartisan agreements in the past. Coleman said he would have joined George Voinovich to try to reach a compromise, but in the end would have voted against the bill that went to the Senate floor. “I would have been part of that discussion, I would have tried to find common ground,” Coleman said, “but I don’t think we found it in this bill.”
“Would you have joined a filibuster on the basis of what you’ve seen?” I asked.
“Again, I would vote against the bill,” he replied.
Coleman later appeared on Fox’s Studio B to talk about the election contest:
SHEPARD SMITH: After the big election the folks in Minnesota still don’t know who their next senator will be. It’s between the Republican who last the office but no longer does, Norm Coleman, and the former SNL writer and liberal talk show host Al Franken. The race was first tied up in a long recount and now in court. Norm Coleman won by a small percentage on election night, but Al Franken won in the recount. And breaking today, the judges adding 23 votes to Al Franken’s count. With us now, one of the men battling for that seat, Norm Coleman, the former Senator there from Minnesota. So is it time to give this thing up and move on with your life, or what is the deal, now sir?
SENATOR NORM COLEMAN: Oh no Shep, there’s no question that there are thousands of more ballots that have to be counted. Last week the judges identified 4,800 ballots that they’re going to take a look at. These are absentee ballots that were wrongfully rejected.
SHEPARD SMITH: What do you mean wrongfully rejected, so people understand.
SENATOR NORM COLEMAN: Well, they are ballots, some were actually marked “accepted” that weren’t counted, others were rejected because the person didn’t sign the ballot, but then we saw the local officials put a stickers over the place where they sign. Some were rejected because they weren’t registered voters, now we have done checks and in fact they are registered voters. The bottom line is that the court will ultimately take a look at these. I am not saying that 4,800 will get in, but there’s no question, Shep, that there are thousands more votes to be counted, will be counted, and that will determine the winner.
SHEPARD SMITH: For our views, we requested Al Franken’s staff to have someone on the show, if not Al Franken himself, then somebody else. we have not received a response sadly. Is this thing is getting nasty or how is it going?
SENATOR NORM COLEMAN: We would like to be over with, but I think the bottom line is most important thing is simply to get it right.
SHEPARD SMITH: How are we going to know what right is?
SENATOR NORM COLEMAN: I think what we’ll know, Shep, is as best as we can, based on the decision from the judges, who had more votes. Is it perfect? No, but we have learned that the system is not perfect. There are thousands of Minnesotans who have found out in just the last couple of weeks that there absentee ballot was never counted, they did not know until we had this election contest. And so is it perfect? No. Will we ever know absolutely? No, but we will have a count and we’ll have a count in which at least each and every ballot being reviewed by this three judge panel and a determination will be made. And that’s about the best we can do.