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Scott Wente, Published January 05 2009

State board certifies Franken as winner of Senate recount; Coleman plans public statement tomorrow

ST. PAUL – Al Franken won Minnesota’s U.S. Senate recount, but not yet a victory in the race.

A state elections board this afternoon unanimously certified results in the two-month-long recount, giving Democrat Franken a 225-vote edge over Republican Norm Coleman.

“Our recount process was long, it was fair and it was thorough,” Franken said late this afternoon.

However, in talking to reporters in front of his home, Franken did not say when – or if – he would head to Washington, but said he is ready to assume the job.

“After 62 days, after the careful and painstaking hand inspection of nearly three million ballots, after hours and hours of hard work by elections officials and volunteers across the state, I am proud and humbled to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota,” Franken said.

Franken did not take questions.

Meanwhile, the Coleman campaign issued an advisory saying the one-term senator will “make a public statement tomorrow afternoon in Minnesota. More details to follow.”

The terse e-mail fueled immediate speculation that Coleman could pull out of the race, although his campaign said the fight is not over.

“We will contest the results of the Canvassing Board – otherwise, literally millions of Minnesotans will be disenfranchised, Coleman attorney Tony Trimble said.

The five-member state Canvassing Board certified the recount result that gave Franken 1,212,431 votes to Coleman’s 1,212,206.

“We’ve counted nearly 3 million ballots,” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said. “We’ve determined how the citizens of Minnesota voted on Nov. 4.”

The board spent days looking over disputed ballots to determine each voter’s intent in the Senate contest.

“I don’t think we’ve written the last chapter in this particular election,” said Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, a Canvassing Board member, before voting to award Franken the most votes.

“To the Minnesota voters out there, we did our best,” said Ed Cleary, a board member and Ramsey County judge.

The Canvassing Board certification came hours after the Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed Coleman’s request to have more ballots included in the recount.

Coleman, whose six-year Senate term ended on Saturday, last week asked the court to intervene as improperly rejected absentee ballots were being reviewed. The Coleman campaign said counties applied different standards in determining which rejected absentee ballots should be counted.

“The record before us with respect to petitioners’ motion demonstrates that local election officials have acted diligently and in accordance with our orders,” said the court order signed by Justice Alan Page.

The secretary of state’s office met Saturday to count about 950 improperly rejected absentee ballots – the final stack of votes counted in the prolonged Senate recount.

The Canvassing Board’s action today triggers a seven-day window during which an election lawsuit, known as an election contest, can be filed.

A three-judge panel would hear the lawsuit, and the court proceedings could drag on for weeks or months.

The election contest has been the most expensive in the country, with the two campaigns spending more than $40 million, and one of the nastiest. After the Nov. 4 vote, the harsh tones continued from the two campaigns and parties.

On Monday, there was a war of words between the two sides.

“For the third time, the Minnesota Supreme Court has rejected an attempt by Norm Coleman to undermine the recount,” said spokesman Matthew Miller of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Unfortunately for him, three strikes and he’s out. This was his last hope - and he’s now faced with no possibility of stopping the recount from being completed today.”

Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, indicated senators might give Franken the seat temporarily until the courts decide a winner. That drew a strong reaction from Minnesota Republicans.

“Al Franken does not have an election certificate and no one from Minnesota will have an election certificate until after all issues regarding the election are resolved before the courts,” state GOP Chairman Ron Carey said. “The people of Minnesota should have the final say in who represents them in Washington, not Harry Reid and D.C. Democrats.”

While the courts sort out the race, Coleman has closed his Washington office and all four in Minnesota.

“Without question this is a unique situation in the history of the Senate, and specifics are still being determined as to the future of the Senate office,” Coleman said in a statement.

Until a new Minnesota senator is seated, Coleman suggested that Minnesotans contact the office of fellow Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar or their area congressman instead of trying to reach his offices. Klobuchar’s office reported Monday it can handle the extra workload for a couple of weeks before calling in extra help.

Coleman’s first six-year term ended Saturday and new senators were sworn in on Monday.