As recount looms, Coleman's lead narrows

Coleman's news conference
U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman speaks at his campaign headquarters this morning with daughter Sarah, left, and wife Laurie in St. Paul, Minn.
Cory Ryan/Getty Images

The vote margin has been fluctuating all day. This morning when Coleman met with reporters at his campaign headquarters, he was leading Franken by 725 votes.

At the time, he said he recognized that his opponent had the right to pursue an official review of the results. But he questioned whether it's worth the tax dollars it would take to count the ballots again.

Al Franken
Al Franken greeted supporters at a DFL party Tuesday night in downtown St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

"I have great confidence in the Minnesota system. I have confidence whether I would have won or lost. I've run a lot of races. I've never questioned the way in which our election system works," said Coleman. "Mr. Franken can do what he chooses to do. I think we take pride in the system we have in the state, and I don't believe there'd be any reason for there to be an exception in yesterday's race."

Coleman said Minnesota's experience with previous recounts has typically resulted in only a few changed votes -- sometimes in favor of the candidate who already had the lead.

He pointed to a recent Minnesota judicial race recount that resulted in only seven changed votes, and a congressional recount that switched four votes.

But the incumbent senator was also resigned to the likelihood that he would have to go through a recount. Coleman said he is putting together a team of legal observers to help oversee the process, which he hoped would proceed in a respectful manner.

"I would hope that for all concerned that we figure out a way to do this what I call the Minnesota way, which is respectful, respects the process, challenges where appropriate, but without feeding that divide that I think has already caused some damage to the body politic in this state and the nation," said Coleman. DFLer Al Franken hasn't announced how he will proceed just yet, but he has not conceded. Franken said the recount should move forward.

The recount process could last into December, because each ballot will need to be examined manually.

"We won't know for a little while who won the race, but at the end of the day we will know the voice of the electorate is clearly heard," Franken said at an early-morning news conference. "This has been a long campaign, but it is going to be a little longer before we have a winner."

Franken said his campaign is investigating reports of irregularities at some polling places, including a Minneapolis precinct that ran out of registration materials for new voters.

Attorney David Lillehaug is advising Franken's campaign. He says anyone who is aware of election irregularities should contact the Franken campaign.

The Minneapolis Elections Office has not received any reports of polling places that ran out of registration materials on Tuesday, according to city spokesman Matt Laible.

"We're double-checking again today, but we did not receive any reports yesterday that any precincts had run out of registration material," Laible said.

With respect to the recount, Lillehaug says the goal is to be efficient and fair, and to make sure that the will of the voters is represented.

"Statistically, the odds are very good that something went wrong with respect to counting, and we're going to find out whether that happened," said Lillehaug.

Even though a few hundred votes may sound like a good cushion for Coleman, Lillehaug says it really isn't, when you consider the fact that 2.9 million Minnesotans voted.

"The margin here is extraordinarily slim. So that is why we have this procedure in Minnesota," Lillehaug said. "That's why the Legislature provided for it. That's why the Secretary of State administers it. And the people of Minnesota have a right to know who has actually won this election."

In close races like this, third party candidates are sometimes viewed as spoilers. Independence Party challenger Dean Barkley captured more than 15 percent of the vote, so his candidacy could have had an enormous effect on the outcome of the race.

Exit polling conducted for MPR News indicated that Barkley took votes from both Franken and Coleman.

But IP member Tim Penny says pundits and the media need to get over the spoiler perception, and figure out a way to let people vote the way they really want to vote.

"I think the process needs to be addressed, and you need to develop a process that makes these votes more meaningful in the outcome," said Penny. "That eliminates this wasted vote syndrome. And that takes away the presumption that only two parties have any right to be on the ballot in this system of ours."

For now, the next step in the elections process will be certification of the vote by county and state canvassing boards. That will happen in two weeks. The recount will start after that.

The process could last into December, because each ballot will need to be examined manually.