Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Reading the Coleman Decision

Every now and then I go and read the actual legal decision issued by a court. I'm always glad when I do this, but it inevitably leads to great frustration because once I've read the legal decision I find myself uncontrollably screaming at the talking heads on the television who, it turns out, usually speak from a position of great ignorance. For example, reading the Terri Schiavo legal findings made it crystal-clear to me how poorly the television newscasters researched things.

On Tuesday I printed out and read the legal decision in the Coleman/Franken case, and this, too has been yielding some degree of frustration. The news reports are not inaccurate, really -- they all note that the court dismissed Coleman's suit (although not all reports include the "with prejudice" part, which is significant) and some of them note that Coleman has to pay Franken's legal fees, which is also significant. But this gets all "he said/she said" in the supposedly "balanced" reporting and nowhere -- literally nowhere -- have I seen any sort of reasonable summary of just how thoroughly the court examined and rejected all of Coleman's individual claims (supported in the opinion itself with reference to testimony, Minnesota law, and previous cases). Nor have I seen any sort of summary of the numerous times in the legal decision where the court seems to have expressed great frustration with how the Coleman legal team pursued their case -- for example, by making several requests after deadlines for those requests had passed, or by changing their position on some aspect of the case, or by agreeing to a procedure and then later claiming in court that the very procedure they had agreed to was not legal. Or by taking the position during the recount that no rejected absentee ballots should be reconsidered, and then taking the opposite position in the challenge.

Reading through the opinion you get the idea that the judges just wanted to slap Coleman's lawyers for wasting their time; I don't think I'm making up that subtext. For example:

Coleman failed to propose any additional absentee ballots for reconsideration by the deadline that he agreed to in the Absentee Ballot Protocol. He did however, after the deadline, propose that 587 additional absentee ballots not on the list identified by local election officials be opened and counted.

Yet you still, to this day, have the Coleman legal team making many public pronouncements -- as they have from the beginning -- with the sole purpose of trying to instill a general sense in the public that something was not right in the election and recount procedures. Every one of their claims was examined and dismissed by the court, and you'd think that an actual reporter would point this out when presenting the story of what the Coleman team is claiming. But no. That would be a "liberal bias" or something.

The big point the Coleman team is now insisting is that there are thousands of absentee ballots that were rejected but that other absentee ballots with the same problems were accepted. The court makes it abundantly clear that all of the rejected absentee ballots have been examined at least twice (the vast majority three times) and that none of them comply with Minnesota law -- the court cannot override Minnesota law and accept those ballots. And as for the claim that other similarly invalid ballots were counted, this little nugget is buried in the decision:

In their Notice of Contest, Contestants alleged that county election officials wrongfully accepted absentee ballots that were opened and counted on Election Day. Contestants failed to identify any such ballots in response to Contestee's interrogatories.

Did you catch that? The Coleman team (and the Rupublican party) continue to make public announcements about these ballots -- claiming that because these ballots were wrongfully accepted that not accepting other invalid ballots disenfranchises votes. This is the absolute core of their argument. And yet in a court of law they offered no evidence or testimony -- none, zilch, nada -- that would support the existence of these ballots. Basically they made this up. The legal decision goes to great length to describe the procedures surrounding the absentee ballots, basically saying: Here's a few dozen pages supporting the contention that nothing was amiss. What do you got, Team Coleman, to show us otherwise? Nothing? How about that.

There's another key thing here, regarding disenfranchisement: In order for there to be disenfranchisement, you've got to show that the votes of the disenfranchised would have changed the outcome of the election. The Court wrote:

Moreover, even if absentee ballots were wrongfully accepted by election officials and counted, this Court has received no evidence that these votes would have changed the outcome of the election and that Coleman would have received the highest number of votes.

So what do the news reports say? Oh, Coleman has an uphill battle because the "burden of proof" was on him. Implying that maybe he had a case, but that the legal system was stacked against him, what with requiring him to prove there was something wrong in the election process rather than requiring the Franken team to prove that nothing was wrong. If only the legal system required us to prove a negative. Even given that bizarre perspective, the court provides as thorough and clear of a case as possible to prove that there was nothing improper about the election. This, however, does not make the news reports.

This is what the court concludes: "There was no evidence of fraud in the conduct of this election and no showing of bad faith on the part of any election official at any point during the election or recount." Why aren't the news reporters armed with that simple and easy to quote conclusion when they interview the Coleman legal team?

The whole thing is a good read.
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