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Franken v. Coleman Nearing Final Refrain?

POSTED: 04:05 PM ET, 03/ 5/2009 by Derek Kravitz

Four months after Minnesota voters cast their ballots, the long-running election fight between Al Franken and Norm Coleman may finally be nearing an end.

Franken moved today to halt Coleman's appeal, arguing that mistakes made by Minnesota election officials were isolated and that the system got it "right 99.9 percent of the time." A decision could be made as soon as today.

State elections officials are awaiting that decision before finally certifying the election result (though the elections board technically certified the recount result Jan. 5, the appeals court can make its own superseding ruling).

But the Coleman-Franken fight for a seat in the U.S. Senate may not end there. Although the state elections case would be over, Coleman may challenge the "fundamental fairness of the state election system" in appeals to the Minnesota Supreme Court or federal courts, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

And there are still other last-gasp recourses for both sides, the Star Tribune reports: "Senate Democrats might try to seat Franken. The U.S. Supreme Court could be asked to get involved. Calls for a new election could be heard. Considering the players, it's the $100 million question. Or more."

Since November, attorneys for ex-comedian Franken and the incumbent Republican Coleman have fought it out in court, bringing in voters to testify about how their ballots weren't counted and disputing voting records collected by the state.

The Minnesota Secretary of State's office maintains a voter-registration database with more than 4 million voters' records, which is still being updated with information collected on Election Day. But Coleman's attorneys argue the database contains enough coding errors to make the entire thing "not accurate."

A breakdown of the major issues left in the trial, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

There is Coleman's claim that more than 100 votes in DFL-heavy Minneapolis were counted twice after copies of damaged ballots were fed into tabulating machines. He also has questioned whether Franken was helped by the way officials responded when 132 ballots disappeared from another DFL stronghold. The Democrat says there's no evidence of real problems in either of those situations.

The race was deemed the most expensive congressional contest in the country, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. Coleman raised $19 million and Franken about $17 million, Federal Election Commission reports show.

After Election Day, Coleman claimed victory with a slim 476-vote lead over Franken, out of nearly 2.9 million cast. In his victory speech, Coleman urged the former "Saturday Night Live" comedian to cancel a recount, which is automatically triggered in Minnesota when the popular vote margin is less than 1 percent.

But Franken refused, citing alleged voting irregularities at some polling places in Minneapolis. He noted "a recount could change the outcome significantly," according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

The recount, which entailed nearly seven weeks of bitter legal challenges and a barrage of campaign rhetoric, gave Franken a 225-vote lead. But Coleman still didn't give up, filing a lawsuit in January to bar Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie from certifying the election.

By Derek Kravitz |  March 5, 2009; 4:05 PM ET
Previous: Bush Aides to Testify on Atty. Firings; Justices Rule Against Wyeth; Senate Keeps PMA Earmarks | Next: Rove Set to Testify About Alabama Governor

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