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Coleman campaign questions big Franken gains

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Secretary of State Mark Ritchie
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie ponders a question and his task ahead during a news conference at the State Office Building Wednesday afternoon.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

Lawyers for the Coleman campaign sent letters to every county under the state Data Practices Act. 

Their request is for copies of election night machine tape results for all precincts, as well as copies of all summary statements or tally sheets from any hand-count precincts. 

Since Tuesday night, Coleman's unofficial lead over Democrat Al Franken has been steadily shrinking, and is now down to 221 votes. 

Franken
DFLer Al Franken says he's not ready to concede the U.S. Senate race to incumbent Republican Norm Coleman.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Coleman campaign Manager Cullen Sheehan describes the shifts as "statistically dubious and improbable." Sheehan says it's odd that the shifts have overwhelmingly benefited Franken.

"Our intent is just to make sure the outcome of the election is what the voters intended," said Sheehan. "A recount is just that -- a recount of the ballots on election night, and not an attempt to ultimately change the outcome of the election."

"It's our intent to make sure, with this request, that we have the background information and necessary documentation that the auditors had, and hopefully again that the election results and the recount go smoothly," he continued.

Sheehan specifically pointed to 100 new ballots reported this week from the Mountain Iron area, which were all votes for Franken. 

A worker in the St. Louis County auditor's office says the 100-vote difference was a clerical error in the original vote reporting,  that staffers discovered when they went back to double check the results.

Senator Coleman holds a press conference
U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., speaks during a press conference at his campaign headquarters November 5, 2008 in St. Paul, Minn.
Cory Ryan/Getty Images

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie insists there's nothing unusual about the canvassing shifts. He says whatever the unofficial margin is, the final outcome will be determined in a statewide recount. 

During a news conference Friday to explain the recount plan, Ritchie bristled at the Coleman campaign's allegation that something was dubious. 

"Since these changes are part of the canvassing process, since it says unofficial counts, since every recount always occurs likes this, we assume that campaign professionals know this," said Ritchie. "And the decision to use words designed to create a cloud over the election is a political strategy. It's a well-known political strategy. It's unfortunate."

A mandated recount cannot begin until after the state Canvassing Board meets on Nov. 18 to certify the election results. 

The contest could be headed to court, but Ritchie says after meeting with lawyers from both campaigns, he's optimistic the state recount will move forward, and will be concluded by mid-December.