'Missing Trunk Ballots' Witness Allowed In Senate Trial
Republican Norm Coleman caught a break Thursday in his Minnesota Senate election trial related to his allegation that some Minneapolis residents got two votes. The three judges in the case have reversed their ruling from a day earlier that excluded a Republican poll worker's testimony. The woman had testified to having direct knowledge of an error that could have caused some voters to have two ballots included in the race. In court Wednesday, Pamela Howell's testimony was struck after it was discovered she supplied written materials to Coleman's campaign that was not also given to that of Democrat Al Franken. The judges said then it was grounds to toss out her testimony entirely under civil trial rules. But in a written order Thursday, the judges said the "inadvertent" error wasn't in bad faith and shouldn't cost Howell the right to testify. If Howell's testimony had stayed out, it could have had big ramifications. Howell, an acknowledged Republican who served as an election judge in Minneapolis, is the only Coleman witness who said she was present when duplicated ballots without proper markings were fed through counting machines.Ballots that are torn, smudged, crumpled or contain votes only for federal offices are sometimes spit out by vote-counting machines, prompting local elections officials to fill out an identical ballot that can be fed through. They're supposed to be marked with corresponding tags, such as "Original 7" and "Duplicate 7," with the original versions placed in a sealed envelope. The statewide recount gave preference to original ballots because they were a truer reflection of a voter's intent. But the number of duplicates and originals for some precincts didn't match up. By counting originals without lining them up with corresponding duplicates, Coleman alleges some voters got two votes. The double-counting argument is an important element of Coleman's case. He said Franken benefited from more than 100 votes from people who had two ballots counted. Coleman's lawyers want the court to subtract the votes from Franken's tally and reduce the 225-vote lead he had after the recount.