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Franken declares victory after board certifies him on top

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Franken declares victory
DFLer Al Franken, with his wife Franni, declared victory in the Minnesota U.S. Senate race Monday, shortly after the state Canvassing Board certified the results of a recount showing him leading Republican Norm Coleman by 225 votes. Coleman says he will sue.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Democrat Al Franken declared victory this afternoon, just hours after the state canvassing board certified results showing Franken winning the state's U.S. Senate recount over Republican Norm Coleman. An attorney for Republican Norm Coleman said he plans to challenge the results.

Standing on the front steps of his Minneapolis condo, Franken said after 62 days of hard work by elections officials around the state recounting every vote by hand, the result is clear.

Sen. Norm Coleman
Republican Norm Coleman has been dealt another setback by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which ruled today the state Canvassing Board does not have to review some 650 absentee ballots Coleman wants counted.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

"I am proud to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota," said Franken. "This victory is incredibly humbling, not just because it was so narrow, but because of the tremendous responsibility it gives me on behalf of the people of Minnesota." 

Franken did not say whether he would go to Washington to try to take the seat when the Senate convenes tomorrow. Senate Republicans have promised to filibuster such a move.   

Coleman campaign attorney Tony Trimble said a  challenge will be filed within 24 hours.  His remarks came minutes after Minnesota's Canvassing Board unanimously approved recount totals that gave Franken a 225-vote edge in the race. 

The Canvassing Board's declaration Monday starts a seven-day clock for Coleman to file a lawsuit protesting the result. If he doesn't, Franken will get the election certificate he needs to take the seat in Washington. 

The former "Saturday Night Live" personality ended the recount up by 225 votes. Franken trailed Coleman by a little less than that heading into the recount. 

Ritchie adn Anderson
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson discuss the results of Minnesota's U.S. Senate race during today's meeting of the state Canvassing Board.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

During the 20-minute meeting Monday, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the two-month recount process "moved from what was a chaotic beginning to something that I think most Minnesotans are proud of."

"We've determined how the citizens of Minnesota voted on Nov. 4," Ritchie said.

Ramsey County District Court Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin, who is also a member of the canvassing board, praised the work of everyone involved in the recount process.

"The process that we went through has been fascinating, it's been frustrating at times," Gearin said. "Everyone involved in this has come in with the recognizing that voting is sacred. It doesn't mean what we've done has been perfect…If we have made any, our mistakes have been the mistakes of the warm-hearted, the honest-hearted, the mistakes of the good-hearted." 

Coleman's lawyers have argued that some ballots were mishandled and others were wrongly excluded from the recount, giving Franken an unfair advantage. 

"We're not doing anything today that declares winners or losers, or anything to that effect."

After a Minnesota Supreme Court decision went against Coleman earlier Monday, lead attorney Fritz Knaak said a lawsuit was inevitable. 

A lawsuit would extend the fight over the seat for months. 

Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court rejected Coleman's request to count an additional 650 rejected absentee ballots in the state's U.S. Senate recount. 

Coleman had argued the ballots were improperly rejected. Franken's campaign charged that Coleman was focusing only on ballots that would allow him to overcome a current vote deficit. 

The court's five-page ruling said Coleman's motion was among issues better handled in a post-recount lawsuit. They cited an earlier order requiring candidates and local election officials to agree on which unopened absentee ballots should be included in the recount. 

Justice Alan Page said the ballots Coleman identified didn't have that consensus. 

Eric Magnuson
Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson reviews the results in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race today during a meeting of the state canvassing board. Magnuson is one of five members of the board.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

"Because the parties and the respective counties have not agreed as to any of these ballots, the merits of this dispute (and any other disputes with respect to absentee ballots) are the proper subjects of an election contest," Page wrote. 

The ruling was another hard blow to Coleman, who entered the recount up by 215 votes. 

If any lawsuits are filed during that waiting period, certification is withheld until court matters are resolved. 

Lawyers for both campaigns have laid the groundwork for lawsuits through public comments and legal maneuvering. In recent weeks, as Franken clung to a small lead, Coleman's lawyers said they could sue over possible mishandling of ballots on election night and during the recount. 

A court case would open doors closed to the campaigns during the administrative recount. They would be able to access voter rolls, inspect machines and get testimony from election workers. 

New York Sen. Charles Schumer, who until recently was the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Sunday the race was settled and that Franken had won the election. 

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"While there are still possible legal issues that will run their course, there is no longer any doubt who will be the next Senator from Minnesota," Schumer said. "With the Senate set to begin meeting on Tuesday to address the important issues facing the nation, it is crucial that Minnesota's seat not remain empty, and I hope this process will resolve itself as soon as possible." 

Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called Schumer's comments premature and troubling, since Schumer is the new chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over contested elections. 

"Senator Schumer will likely play a key role in determining who ultimately assumes this Senate seat," Cornyn said. "Pre-judging the outcome while litigation is still pending calls into question his ability to impartially preside over this matter when it comes before the Committee, as it most certainly will." 

Coleman's term as senator officially expired Saturday. 

Senate Republican leaders have said the chamber shouldn't seat Franken until all legal matters are settled, even if that drags on for months. 

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)