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Minnesota Senate race down to a handful of votes...and counting

Neck-and-neck US Senate race in Minnesota, down to a handful of votes, will require a recount.

By Staff writer / November 9, 2008

To the wire: Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken (not shown) fought an expensive, acrimonious battle.

Jim Mone/AP

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Chicago

In the end, there wasn’t much comedy in Al Franken’s run for the US Senate.

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The former “Saturday Night Live” performer and writer campaigned in Minnesota more as a policy wonk than a humorist, in a widely watched and excruciatingly close race that will draw attention until the final results of a recount are known.

Norm Coleman, the Republican incumbent, currently leads by just 221 votes out of nearly 3 million votes cast, a razor-thin margin that has been fluctuating daily and will generate an automatic recount when the tally is made official on Nov. 18.

It’s one twist in a campaign that has drawn national interest from the beginning, pitting a comedian against a lapsed Democrat, who together set campaign spending records for a congressional race and earned criticism for harsh, negative ads.

“‘Minnesota nice’ has kind of been put into the trash can of history,” says Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota. “Recounts are by their nature acrimonious, and Minnesota is starting what is naturally an acrimonious process at what is already a high baseline level of acrimony.”

Whatever the moods of the campaigns and the stakes involved, the process now is straightforward. Precincts are double- and triple-checking the results, correcting typos or human errors, and a tally is likely to be made official on Nov. 18 by the state canvassing board. At that point, a recount will automatically be ordered because the margin of difference is within one-half of 1 percent.

Such a recount may take about a month, says Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, as equipment and numbers are checked to make sure every eligible ballot has been gathered and as each ballot is visually inspected while representatives from the campaigns watch.

“The process of humans creating errors is the same wherever you are on the planet,” says Secretary Ritchie, noting that the state’s optical scan machines are highly accurate and make it easy to recount. “We’ve built a system that people trust, and that reputation includes being able to administer very large recounts very accurately, and put transparency and accuracy as a top priority in the system.”

Senator Coleman, the former Democratic mayor of St. Paul who turned Republican and won his Senate seat in 2002 in another tightly contested campaign, in which his opponent Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash 11 days before the election, has already claimed victory and urged Mr. Franken to forgo the recount.

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