Signatures key Senate trial issue
ST. PAUL - The absentee application was signed "B Weitenbach" and the ballot envelope was signed "William Alan Weitenbach."
With that difference - one a full name, the other shorthand for Bill Weitenbach - the Elk River man's vote was excluded from Minnesota's November election.
"I suspect that it was because of the signature," Weitenbach concluded during testimony in the U.S. Senate election trial.
A voter's signature - and whether it matches on multiple documents - is a significant issue in the trial, with potentially hundreds of previously uncounted ballots at stake.
Norm Coleman and Al Franken attorneys are quarreling about whether absentee ballots rejected in the election and Senate recount for certain signature discrepancies should be reviewed in the trial.
Coleman attorneys, who challenge Franken's 225-vote victory, said there could be up to 850 voters whose absentee ballots were wrongly rejected because of signature discrepancies.
"If you've got an ambidextrous person and they sign left-handed or right-handed, does it make a difference?" Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg asked outside the courtroom on Tuesday, the 17th trial day. "Can pen and pencil look different if you sign them? Well, the answer is it does to some officials and doesn't to others."
State law requires the voter to sign both the absentee ballot application and the return envelope. Someone else can sign for the voter in limited situations, such as when the voter suffers from an illness affecting penmanship.
Still, there are multiple signature issues in the trial. One involves two signatures from the same person that do not match, such as Weitenbach's. The court has not said whether those will be counted, but it already said it will count similar ballots.
Another issue is whether someone other than the voter can sign the voter's name on the absentee ballot documents, such as if the voter is out of town. The court said those cannot be counted. Coleman wants that decision reconsidered.
Franken's campaign has argued to the judges that there is little wiggle room and that the court should tightly interpret the signature requirement.
However, Franken attorney Marc Elias added, if signatures on two absentee ballot documents are not exact matches, but it can be proven in court that the voter signed both documents, the vote should count.
The trial moved at a faster pace Tuesday than it had during the first three weeks. Attorneys questioned election officials from Wright, Carver and Scott counties. They testified that their counties would handle similar ballots differently. That is a key argument in Coleman's lawsuit challenging the election outcome.
In a ruling, the judges said Franken can submit a list of rejected absentee ballots it wants reviewed in the trial.
Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.