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Coleman appeals election to high court

ST. PAUL - Norm Coleman wants the state's highest court to reverse his U.S. Senate election loss.

The former Republican senator appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court Monday, hoping it will overturn a special judicial panel's ruling that declared Democrat Al Franken the winner.

Coleman's key claim is that the disparate ways absentee ballots were handled by local election officials in the Nov. 4 election violated the U.S. Constitution. He argues that that problem was not corrected during a recent election trial and there remain ballots to count.

The trial ended with the judges declaring that Franken won 312 more votes than Coleman out of more than 2.9 million votes cast.

"We do believe that the district court got it wrong on the law," Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said. "Their decision disenfranchises many Minnesotans."

An appeal is part of the state election contest process, but Franken attorney Marc Elias said Coleman has presented his arguments to judges and state election officials multiple times with no success.

"What we have now is the death throes of the Coleman legal effort," Elias said.

But Ginsberg said the Supreme Court has "a broader view of the law," so can consider constitutional issues that the three-judge panel did not fully explore.

Among Coleman's complaints is that similar absentee ballots were treated differently in different counties - some were counted, others rejected - and that the lack of a statewide standard violates the Constitution's mandate that states cannot deny any person "equal protection of the laws."

Coleman also will ask the Supreme Court to decide whether the trial court should not have allowed votes from a Franken-leaning Minneapolis precinct to be part of the tally even though the ballots are missing.

The high court request comes more than five months after the election. Coleman entered a statewide recount last November leading Franken by 215 votes. The recount ended with Franken on top by 225 votes.

Coleman filed an election lawsuit in January, prompting a seven-week trial. That trial concluded last month and the three-judge panel issued its ruling April 13 after allowing 351 previously uncounted absentee ballots to be included in the tally. Coleman wants more uncounted absentee ballots included.

In a recent interview, Coleman said the appeal is an "uphill challenge," but said he believed his arguments are backed by the Constitution.

"We think we've got a legitimate constitutional argument and believe strongly there are thousands of Minnesotans whose votes should be counted," he told Forum Communications.

Franken said last week that he did not want Coleman to appeal, but acknowledged that an appeal was likely.

The campaigns predict an expedited appeals process because state law says a U.S. Senate election appeal "takes precedence over all other matters before the Supreme Court."

The Franken campaign plans to file a legal document today asking for speedy proceedings with a May 2 deadline for all of the campaigns' appellate briefings. Oral arguments would follow.

Coleman attorney Jim Langdon said oral arguments before the court could occur "anywhere from two weeks to two months from now."

The jurists could decide, however, to rely on court documents and not hear oral arguments, a court official said.

While he still is without an election certificate, Franken on Monday announced his first Senate hire. Alana Petersen, a University of Minnesota Morris graduate and former staffer to U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, will serve as state director for Franken, if he receives an election certificate.