Monday, January 5, 2009

Democrat wins Minnesota Senate seat in recount

By Todd Melby

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Democrat Al Franken beat Republican incumbent Norm Coleman to win the U.S. Senate seat from Minnesota, officials conducting a final recount said on Monday, though the loser promised to challenge the result.

The outcome found Franken edged Coleman by 225 votes out of nearly 2.9 million votes cast, but Coleman's lawyer complained the recount was conducted unfairly and promised a court contest that could take weeks to resolve.

"I don't think this is the last chapter. No system was designed to handle a race this close without a few squeaks," said Eric Magnuson, chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court and a member of the state Canvassing Board that oversaw the recount.

Minnesota's Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat and a member of the five-member board, said a court challenge stood little chance of succeeding because the process has been fair and transparent.

Coleman, seeking a second term, held a razor thin lead after the November 4 election over Franken, a well known satirist and a former writer and actor for the popular Saturday Night Live television show.

If the recount decision holds up Democrats will control at least 58 of the 100 Senate seats in the new U.S. Congress, with the Illinois seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama still in limbo because of the controversy over corruption charges against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Minnesota's Supreme Court on Monday turned down Coleman's motion asking that 654 excluded absentee ballots be added to the recount, with the court saying the issue would be better handled in the court challenge.

Coleman's campaign said the process was "broken" and the court's ruling made it inevitable it will contest the result. Under state law, the state supreme court's chief justice will appoint a three-judge panel to investigate Coleman's claims.

Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas has vowed not to seat Franken until the situation is resolved. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, must certify the result.

Coleman's campaign has complained the recount has favored Franken by excluding some absentee ballots, double-counting some votes and counting some ballots that went missing. Franken's campaign countered with similar claims of uncounted ballots and Coleman votes counted twice.

(Writing by Andrew Stern; editing by David Wiessler)

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