The judicial panel's 68-page ruling stated that the November 4th election was "conducted fairly, impartially and accurately". The panel bluntly and unanimously ruled against Coleman's central argument that the election and the recount were fraught with systemic errors.
"There is no evidence of a systematic disenfranchisement in the state's election system, including in its absentee-balloting procedure," according to the official ruling by judges Elizabeth Hayden, Kurt Marben and Denise Reilly.
They also stated, "After seven weeks of trial, the factual record is devoid of any allegations of fraud, tampering or security breaches on Election Day, during the recount process, or during the election contest."
The week prior Al Franken saw his vote lead widen to 312 votes over Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. However a final court ruling was not issued at that time, and only a ruling that additional absentee ballots could be opened and counted. The three judge panel, after days of deliberations, permitted 351 of 387 disputed absentee ballots to be counted. After those previously uncounted absentee ballots were properly allocated, Al Franken gained an additional 87 votes and increased his lead to 312 votes over that of Norm Coleman.
With the additional increase in Al Franken's lead, calls for Norm Coleman to step aside and graciously admit defeat grew louder. New York Senator Charles Schumer said, "The people have spoken, and now that the courts have spoken, Norm Coleman ought to let the process of seating a senator go forward."
Today's victory for Al Franken culminated a seven-week battle that began shortly after the initial state mandated recount was over on January 5th. At that time Al Franken was clinging to a 225 vote lead over Norm Coleman. Norm Coleman disputed this lead and filed an election contest. An impartial three-judge panel was convened, as dictated by state law, to determine whether Norm Coleman's election contest contained any merit. In the end, 160 days after the initial election in November and 10's of millions of dollars in lawyer fees and court costs the three judge panel ruled against Norm Coleman and declared Al Franken the winner of the 2008 senatorial election.
In what has been the most exhausted and transparent recount in United States history all eyes turn to Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty whose signature is needed to certify Al Franken the winner along with the signature of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Ritchie has previously indicated that he would do so pending the final outcome of the election contest.
The people of Minnesota have gone three months without full representation in Washington and with tax day just around the corner and talk of tea parties the true constitutional test of "taxation without representation" may occur when Minnesotans pay their state and federal taxes on Wednesday April 15th. Let's hope Governor Tim Pawlenty does the right thing.