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Election official criticizes campaigns

Norm Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg, left, jokes with Al Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton about his tie Thursday before the U.S. Senate election trial got started. Pool photo by Jean Pieri, Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL - A local election official blamed the U.S. Senate campaigns for trying to count favorable votes and block others that could help the opponent.

"In general, I think they're trying to cherry-pick voters," said Sharon Anderson, Cass County's auditor and treasurer.

Anderson criticized the Norm Coleman and Al Franken campaigns after testifying Thursday in the U.S. Senate election trial. Most questions attorneys for Coleman and Franken asked Anderson during her testimony dealt with eight Cass County absentee ballots that campaign officials had prevented from being included in the Senate recount, she said.

Those voters' ballots should have been counted all along, Anderson said, and now the campaigns are arguing before a three-judge panel whether to count those and at least 3,500 other absentee ballots.

Coleman is trying to overturn the recount results that gave Franken a 225-vote victory.

During the recount, the Minnesota Supreme Court said absentee ballots that local election officials identified as wrongly rejected in the election could be included in the running tally if the two campaigns agreed. Coleman and Franken representatives blocked nearly one-third of those 1,346 ballots.

Each campaign selectively accepted and blocked some ballots, Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said Thursday.

"I do believe that there was some cherry-picking," Ginsberg said, adding that those ballots are back for consideration during the trial. "I think they'll end up getting in."

Franken's campaign stands by its decisions to veto certain absentee ballots during the recount because it believed they were not lawfully cast, Franken attorney Marc Elias said.

"I still feel they should have been counted," Anderson said of uncounted Cass County ballots she was asked about Thursday.

More than a half-dozen county and city election officials testified Thursday, the trial's 19th day. Through its questioning of witnesses, Coleman's campaign is trying to show that counties had conflicting policies on how certain categories of absentee ballots were handled.

Franken's campaign has argued that counties use the same state election standards, though they acknowledge some election practices may differ from county to county.

Meeker County Auditor Barb Loch said her election workers are trained by state officials how to handle absentee ballots.

"In my view, that is absolutely essential part of the training," she said.