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Minnesota Senate race becomes court fight

The contest will continue, but Democrat Al Franken’s win seems secure.

By Staff writer / January 11, 2009

Likely senator: Al Franken was recently certified as the winner after a recount gave him a 225-vote margin. Legal challenges from Republican Norm Coleman are expected to last for at least a couple of months.

Carlos Gonzales/Minneapolis Star Tribune



Even as the case of one unseated senator moves toward resolution, the other looks to be heading into a protracted legal battle.

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Roland Burris, Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s pick from Illinois, seems likely to be seated quickly, as Senate leaders backed away last week from their refusal to acknowledge anyone chosen by Governor Blagojevich, who was impeached Friday.

But in Minnesota, where Al Franken holds a 225-vote lead over incumbent Norm Coleman, according to the recount certified earlier this month by the State Canvassing Board, Mr. Franken is now defending that lead in court. By Minnesota law, Franken can’t get an election certificate until all legal challenges are settled. The last time the state had a major recount, in the 1962 gubernatorial race, it wasn’t finalized until mid-March. Most observers expect the uncertainty this time to last at least as long.

“At this point, we’re probably looking at a twisty, turny legal battle that will involve decisions by the special judicial body being set up in Ramsey County, along with appeals to both the Minnesota and the US Supreme Court,” says Larry Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.

The margin separating the two contestants after the recount is miniscule, given the nearly 3 million cast, but Professor Jacobs notes that the number of ballots that are being challenged in the lawsuits is also quite small, making it unlikely that Mr. Coleman will garner many new votes. “I’m struggling to see how this pans out for Senator Coleman,” says Jacobs. “It feels a bit like a Greek tragedy, where you know the outcome.”

At one point, Coleman’s prospects seemed brighter. Immediately after the election, he declared victory with an unofficial lead of 725 votes and urged Franken, the former “Saturday Night Live” comedian, to forego a recount.