Published November 18, 2008
MINNEAPOLIS-- Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he is certain that the canvassing board presiding over the closest Senate recount in his state's history will be fair. And a close examination of the board justifies his optimism: The five members represent a diversified group and include four well-respected judges.
The Minnesota State Canvassing Board -- made up of two Supreme Court justices, two district court judges, and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie -- will ultimately determine the winner of the fiercely contested Senate race between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.
A recount of 2.9 million votes will begin on Wednesday, sometime in mid-December, on the day election officials complete that recount, the canvassing board will rule over all disputed ballots one by one.
Ritchie, who is a Democrat and chairman of the state canvassing board, appointed the four high-ranking judges, all of whom come from "very different backgrounds and perspectives," he told FOXNews.com. None have made any documented political contributions, and all are well-respected within the legal community.
Eric Magnuson, a former law firm colleague of Pawlenty -- was appointed by the Republican governor to be chief justice of the state Supreme Court in June. A well-known appellate attorney who is highly regarded among social conservatives, Magnuson sealed the governor's hold on the seven-member court as his fourth appointee.
G. Barry Anderson, a former attorney for the state Republican party, has served on the state Supreme Court since Pawlenty appointed him to it in 2004. Anderson served on the state Court of Appeals for six years and has declined partisan endorsements in his judicial elections. He was city attorney in Hutchinson, Minn., from 1987 to 1998.
Kathleen Gearin -- a former Ramsey County prosecutor who first won her seat on the county bench in a 1986 election -- became chief judge a few months ago. Her partisan leanings are unclear, as she has angered both Democrats and Republicans alike in her rulings.
On Saturday, Gearin ruled against the Coleman campaign's attempt to block 32 absentee ballots from being included in the official Senate vote count. She once represented a defendant of a hate crime law that the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled unconstitutional.
Edwards Clearly -- the most progressive of the four judges -- was appointed by former Gov. Jesse Ventura for a spot on the Ramsey County bench in 2002. Clearly, a former public defender, is now the county's assistant chief judge.
The only member of the five-person panel who appears to have generated any controversy is the board's chairman -- Ritchie himself.
The secretary of state, who has held office since 2006, was endorsed by the Minnesota ACORN Political Action Committee and received political contributions from them during his bid for office. And his election victory was made possible, in part, by a nationwide partisan effort -- with the help of a national group pushing to elect Democratic secretaries of state.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.