- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. | Democrat Al Franken finished Tuesday 47 votes ahead, but it is looking more and more certain that his bitterly contested Minnesota Senate race with incumbent Republican Norm Coleman will not be settled before the new Congress is sworn in early next year.

The state Canvassing Board on Tuesday scheduled a Jan. 5 meeting, and its chairman said the panel’s work could spill into Jan. 6 - the day the next Congress convenes.

According to a preliminary report by the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office, Mr. Franken leads Mr. Coleman by 47 votes, with an increasingly small number of ballots yet to consider.

But Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said there is no way the board will certify a winner this year. Counties have until Dec. 31 to forward uncounted absentee ballots to the board for possible inclusion. Mr. Ritchie’s office and the campaigns could agree to extend that deadline a few days.

“We are not in any way guided by any Washington consideration, timeline,” said Mr. Ritchie, a Democrat. “These folks have people’s lives in their hands.”

Mr. Coleman’s campaign disputed the allocation of some challenged ballots and called some of the board’s rulings inconsistent. It said correcting the errors would have produced a 49-vote swing in Mr. Coleman’s favor.

Mr. Franken’s campaign has also brought some potential errors to the board’s attention, which it says amounts to 43 potential votes in the Democrat’s favor.

Mr. Coleman’s campaign asked the board Tuesday to reconsider how it decided 16 challenged ballots, but none were switched.

“In looking back at these again, it was all immediately clear to me why I had voted the way I had. There was no uncertainty,” said Eric Magnuson, the Supreme Court chief justice and a board member. “I saw nothing in any of those that gave me pause to change my vote. I suspect if you went and gave me another 100 of them there wouldn’t be that many I got wrong.”

The board will meet Dec. 30 to consider the allocation report.

The Coleman campaign was due to go before the state Supreme Court late Tuesday to argue for the disqualification of ballots it says were double-counted.

Regardless of the outcome of that case, the vote totals could shift again when local elections officials open as many as 1,600 absentee ballots that were incorrectly rejected on Election Day. Mr. Franken’s campaign, which trailed in the very first returns, fought for their inclusion, but it is anyone’s guess how those votes will break.

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled last week that improperly rejected absentee ballots must be included in the state’s recount. Under a proposal awaiting ratification, Mr. Ritchie said the board would count the ballots that recount officials and the campaigns agree were wrongly excluded from the earlier vote tallies.

The race was thrown into overtime because Mr. Coleman led Mr. Franken by a mere 215 votes after the Nov. 4 count of about 2.9 million ballots. That was well within the automatic recount law triggered when races are within one-half of one percentage point.

The race is the last U.S. Senate contest of the 2008 election cycle to be decided. A win by Mr. Franken, a former “Saturday Night Live” comedian, would give Senate Democrats at least 57 seats - just three short of a filibuster-proof majority - with President-elect Barack Obama’s Illinois Senate seat still to be filled.

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