- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2009

ST. PAUL, Minn.

Republican Norm Coleman said Tuesday he is suing to challenge Democrat Al Franken’s apparent recount victory in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race, delaying a resolution of the contest for weeks or months.

At a Capitol news conference filled with cheering supporters, Mr. Coleman said he won’t accept a board’s determination a day earlier that Franken won 225 more votes in the November election. He had a seven-day window to file the lawsuit.

“We are filing this contest to make absolutely sure every valid vote was counted and no one’s was counted more than anyone else’s,” Mr. Coleman said.

Mr. Coleman shrugged off the idea that he might concede the election to avoid a protracted fight that could leave Minnesota with only a single senator in Washington for months.

“Something greater than expediency is at stake here,” Mr. Coleman said. He added: “Democracy is not a machine. Sometimes it’s messy and inconvenient, and reaching the best conclusion is never quick because speed is not the first objective, fairness is.”

State law prevents officials from issuing an election certificate until legal matters are resolved.

Franken’s campaign planned a news conference later Tuesday to comment. In an e-mail to supporters, his campaign requested donations to continue the fight.

“Unfortunately, we’re not done, because instead of conceding, Norm Coleman has decided to go to court, filing a lawsuit in an attempt to overturn the result of the election,” read the plea from campaign manager Stephanie Schriock.

Mr. Coleman issued his own appeal for donations a day earlier.

Mr. Coleman, whose term expired Saturday, led Franken by 215 votes in the Nov. 4 count but that advantage flipped during a prolonged recount. Mr. Coleman’s lawyers say recount inconsistencies and election irregularities should be reviewed by a special three-judge panel.

In going to court, Mr. Coleman has three big challenges: raising money to pay escalating legal bills, proving the election was flawed and managing the public’s desire to have the race over.

And while Mr. Coleman is filing the lawsuit, Franken will also have a chance to try to scrounge up additional votes. Both sides will have options they lacked during the recount, such as accessing voter rolls, inspecting machines and introducing testimony from election workers.

Mr. Coleman’s filing includes some of the points his lawyers have been making for weeks. It centers mainly on claims that hundreds of rejected absentee ballots from Republican-leaning areas should have been part of the recount, that some ballots in Democratic territory were counted twice and that election officials were wrong to use machine tallies for a Minneapolis precinct where ballots went missing.

But there are new angles, too.

The lawsuit alleges that the Canvassing Board made mistakes when determining voter intent on challenged ballots, that ineligible voters cast ballots and that some absentee ballots were erroneously opened early, raising chain-of-custody concerns.

The lawsuit doesn’t spell out how many votes Mr. Coleman hopes to gain.

A race that was a couple of years in the making Franken announced his campaign in February 2007 is now two months past Election Day.

Franken declared victory Monday, but the former “Saturday Night Live” personality was not sworn in with new senators when Congress convened Tuesday. A spokeswoman declined to reveal Franken’s whereabouts or say what he would do during a legal challenge.

Franken made up his Election Day deficit over the prolonged recount in part by prevailing on more challenges that both campaigns brought to thousands of ballots. He also did better than Mr. Coleman when election officials opened and counted more than 900 absentee ballots that had erroneously been disqualified.

The case would fall to a three-judge panel selected by Chief Justice Eric Magnuson of the state Supreme Court, an appointee of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and a member of the Canvassing Board.

The costs of the election lawsuit fall to the losing campaign, although state law could require various units of government to foot the bill if their errors or irregularities lead to a reversal.

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