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Senate race long ways from over

Norm Coleman, with his wife Laurie, announces on Tuesday that he ordered his lawyers to challenge Al Franken's U.S. Senate victory in court. Franken ended a statewide recount with a 225-vote lead. Staff photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Al Franken entered halftime of Minnesota's U.S. Senate race in the lead, but Norm Coleman is hoping for a come-from-behind victory.

Coleman, whose term as senator ended Saturday, is going to court in his bid to win the drawn-out race and a second term. A statewide recount took two months; Coleman's chief attorney said a legal case could take two more months.

"Minnesotans deserve 100 percent confidence that their senator was fairly elected by all the people," Coleman said Tuesday while surrounded by supporters urging him to keep fighting.

The 1962 governor's race was Minnesota's last prolonged statewide election, but it did not go into the same type of court case that the Senate race now is in. That race was not settled until the following March.

Coleman said he is not "100 percent confident" he will prevail in court, but said he believes he won on election night.

The Republican's decision to sue came a day after the state Canvassing Board certified results of the two-month statewide recount that put Democrat Franken on top by 225 votes. Coleman entered the recount leading by about that much.

The election contest will play out much like a traditional court case.

Coleman's campaign filed initial paperwork in Ramsey County District Court challenging the recount, claiming that process was flawed and included vote-counting inconsistencies.

The case - complete with evidence, witnesses and a trial - could take at least two months, Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak said. While the case could require a second statewide recount, it likely will focus on select precincts.

Coleman's campaign listed several arguments it will make:

  • Certain precincts reported more votes than ballots.
  • There were ballots found during the recount that were not included in the election night tally.
  • Canvassing Board members - Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, two Supreme Court justices and two district court judges - ruled inconsistently on votes challenged by the campaigns.
  • Some votes were counted twice while others that should have been counted were excluded from the tally.
  • Some who cast ballots were not eligible to vote.
  • Poll workers failed to initial ballots.

    State law calls for the Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson to appoint three state judges to oversee the proceedings.

    Attorneys for Coleman will travel the state to gather information about how the election and recount were handled and interview local election officials. A trial could begin within three weeks.

    Coleman's attorneys did not rule out a federal lawsuit if they are unsuccessful in state court. However, Knaak said the campaign is focused on the state case.

    Coleman's case relies mostly on arguments he made and lost during the recount, Franken attorney Marc Elias said.

    "We are on the precipice of the next phase here, which is where the Coleman campaign takes a very heavy rock and tries to push it systematically up a very steep hill," Elias said. "There simply aren't the votes there."

    The recount total gave Franken 1,212,431 votes to Coleman's 1,212,206. That prompted Franken to declare victory Monday and call himself "the next senator from Minnesota." The former "Saturday Night Live" comedian acknowledged further legal action was possible, but said he would focus on getting to work for Minnesotans.

    However, state law says the winner of a Senate race cannot receive an election certificate until a lawsuit challenging the outcome is resolved.

    Senate Democrats had raised the possibility of provisionally seating Franken pending a court challenge, but later backed away. Franken refused to take questions about that issue when he addressed reporters Monday, and campaign staffers only would say that the Senate has authority over seating its members.

    Franken remained in Minneapolis Tuesday, his campaign said.

    Minnesota likely will be represented by only one senator - Democrat Amy Klobuchar -- while the lawsuit plays out. Coleman said that was a concern and that his staff was working with Klobuchar's office.

    "But I really think it's important for a six-year term to make sure that we get this right," he said.

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