Minnesota court says new Senate ballots must be sent

Friday, November 1, 2002

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In a partial victory for the Democrats, Minnesota's Supreme Court ordered local election officials Thursday to send out new absentee ballots to people who ask to change their Senate vote in the wake of Sen. Paul Wellstone's death.

The ruling fell well short of what the Democrats wanted: throwing out all absentee votes already cast and mailing new ballots to everyone, whether they asked for a new one or not.

The decision came after former Vice President Walter Mondale kicked off a lightning five-day campaign against Republican Norm Coleman as the Democrats' last-minute stand-in for Wellstone, who was killed in a plane crash last week while locked in a tight re-election race vital to control of the Senate.

Mondale said he planned to travel the state and would engage Coleman in a single debate before Tuesday's election.

The abbreviated campaign began in earnest six days after Wellstone, his wife, daughter and five others were killed. A poll suggests Mondale has a slight lead over Coleman, a former St. Paul mayor.

Under a plan that state officials earlier this week said was dictated by state law, absentee votes that had been cast for Wellstone before his death would not be counted, and voters who wanted to cast a new ballot would have to go to their local election office and request one.

But the Democrats complained that would be too inconvenient for many voters and would disenfranchise those who marked their ballots for Wellstone.

The Republicans opposed a blanket re-mailing but told the high court they had no objection to sending new ballots to anyone who requested them, which was the Democrats' fallback position.

The high court issued its ruling just hours after hearing arguments, and the seven justices did not detail their reasoning.

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