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Rosemount woman wants vote counted

Mijanou Sampers of Rosemount testifies Tuesday during the U.S. Senate election trial. Sampers was a witness for Norm Coleman's campaign and testified that her absentee ballot was not counted and should have been. Pool photo by Jim Mone, Associated Press - Minn. State Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL - Mijanou Sampers was unfazed by her short time in the U.S. Senate election trial spotlight.

The Rosemount woman testified Tuesday in Norm Coleman's election lawsuit, saying she does not understand why her absentee ballot was rejected in the Nov. 4 election and may never be counted.

"I just wanted my voice heard," Sampers said.

A witness for Coleman, Sampers testified that she first learned her absentee ballot was not counted just weeks ago when someone from the Minnesota Republican Party called her. Sampers, a Republican, said she was told the ballot was rejected because of trouble with signatures on her absentee ballot documents, but does not know details.

"I think it's an issue of fairness," Sampers said later, adding that if voters fill out their ballot information the way they are supposed to, "then it should be counted."

The trial's second day saw the first of what could be hundreds of witnesses - voters, county auditors and election workers - who could testify during the proceeding.

The campaigns of Coleman and Democrat Al Franken each have identified around 150 people as possible witnesses. Coleman began by calling about a half-dozen voters as it tries to argue that the three judges hearing the case should include thousands of new votes in the election tally.

Like he did Monday, Coleman attended the trial Tuesday, sitting alongside his team of attorneys.

"Today we saw the human side of this and that's what this is really about," Coleman said afterward.

Franken attorney Marc Elias said it is about time Coleman focus on individual voters after his campaign has relied on controversial ballot documents "as proxy for real people."

Coleman filed the lawsuit, known as an election contest, to challenge the recount results showing Franken won by 225 votes. The Republican, whose Senate term ended early this month, says rejected absentee ballots were not treated the same way across the state.

In addition to voters, Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg called Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann as a witness. Gelbmann was asked at length about how local officials handle absentee ballots. Friedberg also asked about specific ballot issues in Clay, Pennington, Washington and Dakota counties. In those counties, ballots were initially rejected but after further review were included in the recount. No officials from those counties testified, but may in the coming days or weeks.

The trial, which got off to a rough start Monday, did not resume until early Tuesday afternoon. The three judges spent the morning meeting privately with campaign attorneys and state election officials to discuss trial evidence.

Coleman's campaign wants about 4,500 absentee ballots that were rejected by local officials in the election to be counted in the trial. The campaign attempted to include as evidence copies of those absentee ballot envelopes, but the judges said counties must send original documents.

Judge Denise Reilly of Hennepin County said the court is trying to determine the best way to get those records sent to St. Paul from around the state. She acknowledged it could be a big task for cities and counties that "are under stress and strain for budgetary reasons."

Each campaign said voters make up a small share of its witness list.

Franken's witness list includes at least 164 people. They include election officials from more than a dozen counties, including Clay, St. Louis, Kandiyohi, Beltrami, Becker, Goodhue and Washington. A city of Duluth worker also is named.

Coleman does not identify where witnesses are from, but they are from around the state.

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