Franken Pulls Ahead of Coleman but Neither May Be Seated on Jan. 6

Posted December 19, 2008 at 4:45pm

Comedian Al Franken (D) pulled ahead of Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) on Friday in their still-unresolved Senate election, as the state canvassing board finished counting challenged ballots. With thousands of votes yet to be added to the final count, Franken led Coleman by 262 votes, according to a total from the Associated Press. But the counting is far from over in the Minnesota Senate race that will likely drag into the new year, and it is unlikely that either man will be seated when Congress reconvenes on Jan. 6. Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D) plans to add thousands of previously withdrawn challenged ballots from both campaigns into the count over the weekend, which is expected to greatly alter the margin between the two candidates. What’s more, the state Supreme Court ordered this week that the recount must now include up to 1,600 improperly rejected absentee ballots in the final tally. In response to a Coleman petition this week, the state’s high court ruled Thursday that both campaigns and county elections officials must come up with a system to pick and count the wrongfully rejected absentee ballots. Counties must submit their amended totals by Dec. 31, after which both campaigns will have the opportunity to challenge these ballots before they are added to the final tally. Franken’s campaign maintains that these absentee ballots will break for Franken, while a Coleman spokesman said the Senator is not certain how it could affect the final vote tally. Franken recount attorney Marc Elias said Friday that even without adding the wrongfully rejected absentee ballots, the campaign’s internal numbers showed that Franken’s net lead increased Friday from four votes to “dozens.” Coleman spokesman Mark Drake would not disclose the campaign’s internal count Friday evening, but said he was confident in the campaign’s position going into the wrongfully rejected absentee ballot recount. “I’m not going to get into the specifics, but we feel good about where we are,” Drake said. Coleman’s campaign announced on Friday that it has filed another petition with the Minnesota Supreme Court, requesting that the state canvassing board stop including “double-counted” votes in the recount. According to the Coleman campaign, the “double-counted” votes occur when a ballot is damaged on election night and local officials create a copy of the ballot to send through the voting machine. Coleman campaign attorney Tony Trimble said there are at least 150 cases in which both the ballot and the duplicate were added to the recount tally, and most were in strong Franken precincts. Franken campaign spokesman Andy Barr called the Coleman petition a “desperate act by a campaign panicked because it has suddenly realized that it is going to lose the election.”