Senate race in overtime
ST. PAUL -- U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman declared victory Wednesday. Challenger Al Franken said a recount would show who Minnesotans really want in the Senate. And Minnesotans who endured a lengthy U.S. Senate race now could be forced to wait into December, or longer, to see who actually won.
Republican Coleman collected 465 more votes than Democrat Al Franken, unofficial secretary of state returns show. But state law mandates a recount of each the nearly 3 million ballots cast because the election is a virtual tie.
A final tally recorded Wednesday afternoon, before the recount, showed Coleman with 1,211,632 votes, for 41.99 percent. Franken followed with 1,211,167, which was 41.98 percent. The Independence Party's Dean Barkley trailed with 437,377 votes, 15.16 percent of the vote.
Coleman, ending his first six-year term as senator, said that he will continue on as senator.
"I am humbled and grateful for the victory the voters gave us last night," he said.
Not so fast, Franken said earlier. A mandated recount could show he won, he said, in part because Democrats have heard of some voting "irregularities" that could change the election's outcome.
Coleman said Franken could waive the recount provision, which he can do under law, and save the taxpayers money. The state tab could be $86,000, based on a 3-cent-per-ballot recount cost, election officials said.
The closeness of the race convinced the Associated Press to withdraw its early Wednesday declaration of Coleman as the winner. The AP said it called the race prematurely. The AP and the secretary of state's vote differed.
The 0.01 percent margin between Franken and Coleman was well within the 0.5 percent difference that brings a statewide, and state funded, recount.
Franken said that what he called "irregularities" may be enough to erase that margin in a recount.
"This race is too close to call," Franken said.
Coleman, on the other hand, said Minnesota elections are "clean and well run. ... This election was no exception."
"It is up to him whether it is worth the tax dollars," Coleman said about Franken's decision to go through with a recount.
Even though he thinks the election was fair, the senator said he is assembling a team to deal with the issue.
The campaigns brought in two former U.S. attorneys to oversee the recount.
Franken campaign's attorney is David Lillehaug, a long-time Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party activist.
Coleman announced Wednesday night that he had hired Tom Heffelfinger, who wondered why the secretary of state's vote tallies changed during the day.
"I'm quite concerned about the sudden disappearance of nearly 250 votes over the course of two hours after the Minnesota secretary of state's office had reported that the office had tabulated 100 percent of the votes of Minnesotans," Heffelfinger said.
Coleman promised to move on as senator, leaving recount details up to his team.
"I look forward to continuing my work as Minnesota's mayor in Washington," the former St. Paul mayor said.
Coleman said on Wednesday that he "was hopeful the healing process for Minnesota would have begun today," but a recount could delay that for weeks. Franken and Coleman -- and their supporters -- waged one of the roughest campaigns in the country.
The senator said he would not have allowed the recount to go on had he been in Franken's shoes. And while he said he did not expect to make a court challenge to the returns, he left the door open in case something unexpected crops up.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the recount will not begin until Nov. 19, at the earliest. And it could take weeks, longer if one or both candidates challenge the recount in court.
"How many courts, how many lawyers, how many challenges -- we don't know," Ritchie said.
The Senate race was one of the most closely watched in the country, and lawyers and others with ties to the race are expected to pour into Minnesota to watch -- and maybe challenge -- the recount.
A Supreme Court recount this fall, with more than 400,000 votes, turned up just seven changes. Ritchie said that gave workers practice.
"There will be many more ballots and a lot more partisan participation in the process," he said of the Senate recount. "So that will add a significant amount of time."
Ritchie would not estimate how long the recount will take, except to say it will require more than the three days used in the recent Supreme Court recount and fewer than the 139 days required to settle Minnesota's 1962 governor's race, the last major recount.
Each ballot must be checked by hand, Ritchie said. His office will work with county and city officials. Ballots will be counted at about 100 sites around the state, and each major political party will be allowed to have one observer at each location.
"Every ballot will be examined for the voters' intent," the secretary said.
Franken said his campaign, and that of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, heard about several Election Day problems that could lead to a change in the returns. The only reported irregularity he or Lillehaug would mention was a shortage of voter registration documents in Minneapolis.
Lillehaug said several cases of irregularities had been reported, but said at least some probably have no merit.
"At the end of the day, there is reason to believe the voice of the people will be heard," Franken said.
He added: "This has been a long campaign. It is going to be a little longer."
Minnesota GOP Chairman Ron Carey praised Coleman and said "we're confident the results will stand."
Much national attention is expected to shine on Minnesota during the recount, although not as much as after the 2000 presidential race.
"It won't be Florida 2000, where the fate of the western world was at stake," Ritchie said. "But it will be very high interest."
Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.