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By Karrah Anderson, Minnesota Capitol Bureau, Published March 07 2009

Minn. Senate race: 'Even diehards are burned out'

ST. PAUL – Minnesotans may be sick of hearing about the drawn-out U.S. Senate election, recount and trial, but many say in the end it could produce more confidence in the electoral system.

“It’s gotten to the point where even the diehards are burned out,” said Pat Donnay, Bemidji State University political science professor.

But Minnesotans now know the system values every vote, he said.

“This has been tedious and slow, but there really aren’t too many complaints,” Donnay said. “There are no allegations of impropriety and partisanship. We’re erring on the side of accuracy to the point of mind-numbing tedium.”

Democrat Al Franken’s attempt to unseat Republican Norm Coleman began in 2007, with national publicity because of Franken’s history as a “Saturday Night Live” performer and writer. Interest accelerated as the election neared, with the two candidates spending the most of any Senate race last year.

The election ended in a near tie, and a statewide recount of 2.9 million ballots followed. Coleman challenged the recount returns showing Franken with a 225-vote advantage. The resulting trial, now stretching into its sixth week, is beginning to wear on at least some Minnesotans.

Samantha Esguerra said during a recent Capitol visit that some students have heard enough of the ongoing trial and incessant news coverage of the U.S. Senate race.

“What is Coleman doing?” asked Esguerra, a sophomore in studio art at the University of Minnesota Morris. “Is power that important? I’m tired of it – not more interested.”

“It doesn’t affect my interest in the political system,” added Michael McBride, a Morris political science sophomore. “But I’ve been actively following the trial.”

McBride sees no long-term impact of the Senate race.

“It isn’t going to shake anyone’s political identity,” McBride said. “Six years from now, no one will remember the recount.”

Donnay suggested that six years from now it could be on the minds of voters, suggested Donnay.

“If Coleman looses and runs for Senate or governor again,” Donnay said, “then we might see a difference in voter interest.”

Other than that, Donnay is on the same side as McBride.

He said that the significant effect of the recount and trial could be on third-party candidates such as Dean Barkley, who finished third to Coleman and Franken.

“There are additional obstacles for third parties,” Donnay said. “Voters will look at Barkley and how the votes could have been for major parties. Third-party candidates will have to convince people where their vote might have made a difference.”

“Every vote counts” is on students’ minds, too.

“Knowing how close it is, makes it clear each vote matters and is significant,” said John Jones, a Morris elementary education sophomore.

Eric Fought of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said people know their vote counted because of the recount.

“It certainly highlights if anyone has ever questioned if their vote will count,” Fought said. “They know now.”

Fought said the recount has been handled transparently, allowing Minnesotans to retain trust in the system.

“There is a lot of trust and confidence in this process because the process is fair and transparent,” Fought said. “Not only in the election, but also the recount.”

Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey said any effect will be seen on the local level.

“I think it will trickle down and, hopefully, benefit local elections,” he said. “People are going to realize that every vote is important.”

Anderson is a University of Minnesota journalism student who writes for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. She can be reached at mnbureau@forumcomm.com