Officials Reject Franken’s Request to Certify Minnesota Senate Race Pending Lawsuit

January 12, 2009 - 4:29 PM
Officials Turn Down Franken Request in Minn. Race
St. Paul, Minn. (AP) - Democrat Al Franken was quickly turned down Monday when he asked Minnesota's governor and secretary of state to issue an election certificate that would let him take office in the Senate.
 
In letters the campaign sent to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, Franken's lawyers argued that a seven-day waiting period for issuing the certificate after an election has passed and he should get the signed certificate. But the state officials said their hands were tied by state law and they could not act.
 
Franken led Republican Norm Coleman by 225 votes after a statewide recount that was completed Jan. 5.
 
Coleman is suing over the result, claiming there were irregularities on Election Day and during the recount.
 
Minnesota law prevents officials from issuing an election certificate until legal matters are resolved. But Franken's legal team argues that federal election law entitles Franken to receive the certificate before the lawsuit is settled.
 
"The people of Minnesota are down a senator in the U.S. Senate. This is an opportunity for Governor Pawlenty and Secretary Ritchie to ensure the interests of all Minnesotans are represented in Washington," Franken lawyer Marc Elias told reporters in a conference call. He didn't rule out a lawsuit.
 
In a statement, Ritchie said state law requires him and the governor to turn down Franken's request.
 
"Minnesota law is very clear on when a certificate of election can be issued. Neither the governor nor I may sign a certificate of election in the U.S. Senate race until all election contests have reached a final determination," Ritchie's statement read.
 
The statement didn't specifically address Franken's argument that federal law supercedes the state law.
 
Pawlenty echoed Ritchie, saying it is clear the law won't allow him to issue a certificate while the race is being contested in court.
 
Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan dismissed the move as a power play meant to get around Franken's need to defend the election outcome in court.
 
"He can't and won't be seated in a seat he didn't win, so he is trying this underhanded attempt to blatantly ignore the will of Minnesotans and the laws of the state," Sheehan said.
 
Franken's campaign was due to file a response to Coleman's lawsuit later Monday. Elias characterized the Coleman action as "riddled with errors that are fatal to much if not all of the claims made in the petition."
 
By law, a trial on the lawsuit must start within three weeks of its filing, which occurred last Tuesday. It will be heard by a three-judge panel that has not yet been named.