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The Long Recount is Over

POSTED: 11:48 AM ET, 01/ 6/2009 by Derek Kravitz

After nearly seven weeks of counting nearly 2.9 million votes, bitter legal challenges and a barrage of campaign rhetoric, the Minnesota recount is over.

Al Franken, the Saturday Night Live comedian and Democrat who began his campaign to unseat the incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman more than two years ago, won after holding onto a slim 225-vote lead in the race, out of 2.9 million votes cast.

But the Republican senator is not going down without a fight. He is slated to file an election contest lawsuit today, which will essentially stop Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie from certifying the election.

One of the closest elections in congressional history started just after Election Day, when Coleman held a slim 476-vote lead over Franken. He urged Franken to cancel a recount, which is automatically triggered when the popular vote difference between two candidates is less than 1 percent.

The Associated Press originally called the race for Coleman but "uncalled" it at about 9 p.m. on Election Day, saying the report had been "premature."

Among the rules in Minnesota's 18-page 2008 Recount Guide (pdf) was one that may have been of critical importance in the process: Out-of-place marks made on ballots that are "close enough to a name or line to determine voter intent are counted."

During the recount, officials visually inspected each ballot, then sorted them into piles for each candidate. Representatives from the campaigns had the opportunity to challenge a ballot if they believed it had been counted for the wrong candidate or wrongly thrown out. Officials then sealed challenged ballots into envelopes and sent them to the canvassing board for further inspection.

(Minnesota uses optical scan ballots, so there was no infamous "hanging chads," as there were in the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida.)

A pool of ballots counted Saturday boosted comedian Franken's margin of victory from 49 to 225.

Coleman's legal challenge will hinge on 654 rejected absentee ballots that his campaign said appeared to be validly cast, along with up to 150 ballots in Democrat-leaning precincts that the campaign said were counted twice, and 133 Minneapolis votes that were counted (based on the Election Day tally) though the actual ballots couldn't be found during the hand recount, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

By Derek Kravitz |  January 6, 2009; 11:48 AM ET
Previous: Madoff Roundup, Richardson Fallout, Burris Takes to the Hill | Next: Blackwater Guards Head to Court


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