ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Democrats on Thursday asked the state Supreme Court to order new absentee ballots be mailed out in the wake of Sen. Paul Wellstone's death, arguing that voters who supported Wellstone are in danger of losing their vote.
Alan Weinblatt, an attorney for the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party, urged the court's seven justices to rule that existing absentee ballots should be considered "spoiled" if voters who cast them want to change their vote.
Weinblatt rejected the Republican Party's contention that a massive re-mailing of absentee ballots could actually disenfranchise supporters of other candidates, by leaving them too little time to file their new ballot.
"Those voters who want their original absentee ballot to be counted don't do anything," Weinblatt said. "Those who do want to cast a vote for office of U.S. Senate send in the replacement ballot. Nobody's going to vote twice."
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of DFL Party Chairman Mike Erlandson and two voters who will be out of the state on Election Day. It alleges that a process outlined by Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican, and Attorney General Mike Hatch, a Democrat, could disenfranchise people who voted absentee for Wellstone.
Wellstone was killed last week, along with seven others, in a northern Minnesota plane crash while in a re-election fight against Republican Norm Coleman. He has been replaced on the ballot by former Vice President Walter Mondale.
As it now stands, people with absentee ballots they haven't returned can either write a name in or vote in person at their polling place on Election Day. People who have submitted theirs can go to a local election office and request a new ballot. But new ballots won't be mailed out.
GOP attorney Tony Trimble argued against a mass mailing of absentee ballots to those who obtained them earlier. He said the government should not presume that people want to change their votes, and should do nothing more than respond to affirmative requests from voters.
Some counties are disregarding Kiffmeyer's instructions and mailing new absentee ballots to anyone who asks for them. An attorney for Hennepin County, Patrick Diamond, said the county believes voters are entitled to new ballots without regard to why they are requested. Hennepin, which includes Minneapolis and accounts for one-fourth of the state's population, is already doing so.
Hatch said the counties shouldn't be doing it, but had no plans to intervene, saying voters shouldn't be punished for a county's mistake.
Weinblatt rejected the idea that too little time remained to get new absentee ballots out.
"We are living in the 21st century, not the 19th," he said. New ballots could be made available by Web site, fax, and e-mail, he noted.
After about an hour of arguments, the justices adjourned with no immediate decision.
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