(CN) – Unopened absentee ballots from the 2008 U.S. Senate race between Norman Coleman and Al Franken are not public records, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled, rejecting TV stations’ bid to view the rejected ballots.
Franken, a former writer and performer on “Saturday Night Live,” won the election narrowly after several legal challenges.
Five TV stations sued Ramsey County for access to the rejected absentee ballots, citing the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.
The trial court ruled for the stations, stating that the ballots are public data that can be viewed so long as the absentee voters’ privacy rights are protected.
On appeal, Judge Heidi Schellhas ruled that a debate over whether the ballots are private or public is unnecessary. The answer, she ruled, is found in a state statute that classifies as nonpublic data “sealed absentee ballots prior to opening by an election judge.”
Schellhas thus reversed the decision and denied the TV stations access to the ballots.
“The rejected absentee ballots in possession of Ramsey County are indisputably sealed and have not been opened by an election judge,” Schellhas wrote. “Under the unambiguous language of (the statute), the absentee ballots are either nonpublic or private.”