With lawsuit looming, Senate won't seat Franken

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

There were no ballots to scrutinize. There were no heated exchanges between the lawyers. As Minnesota's State Canvassing Board completed its recount more than two months after election day, there was just one thing left to do -- sign the paperwork.

"I'm going to pass this down for signing, and with this act and with this act we are certifying the results," Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said.

Ritchie made it clear the board wasn't officially declaring a winner, but the results showed Franken got 225 more votes than Coleman.

At a press conference outside his Minneapolis condominium, Franken said that means he won the race.

"After 62 days of careful and painstaking hand inspection of nearly 3 million ballots, after hours and hours of hard work by election officials and volunteers across this state, I am proud to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota," he said.

Franken brushed aside Coleman's looming legal challenge as a mere formality.

"There may still be additional legal proceedings related to our recount, but now I am in the business of serving the people of Minnesota, and the best way I can serve the people of Minnesota right now is to focus all my attention and all my energies on getting to work for them on the issues we'll be facing together," he said.

But in spite of Franken's confident declaration, it's not over, yet.

Coleman did not speak to reporters yesterday, though he is scheduled to make appearance in Minnesota Tuesday. But even before Franken made his victory speech, Coleman's lawyers made it clear they aren't about to give up.

Gutknecht's attorney
Coleman campaign attorney Tony Trimble in 2006.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki

"There can be no count that is accurate or valid, when 654 potentially valid absentee ballots remain disenfranchised and when some votes are counted twice," Coleman attorney Tony Trimble said.

Those are two of the issues the Coleman campaign plans to raise in court. Actually, they already took both of them to the Minnesota Supreme Court during the recount, and the court ruled they'd have to wait until after the Canvassing Board finished its work. Now that that's happened the campaign will move into the election contest. It will be handled by a special three-judge panel that will start its work toward the end of this month.

Trimble says he isn't asking to start the whole recount over again; he just wants selected precincts re-examined. He acknowledged that it's hard to predict what the scope of the election contest will be.

"There may be other precinct reviews that arise from ourselves or even from Franken as we engage in this contest. Remember, they are part of the contest, and they well add in matters of their own," Trimble said.

Franken's lawyers didn't say what issues they might raise in an election contest, preferring to keep the focus on the canvassing board numbers.

Harry Reid (D-NV ) speaks on day three of the DNC
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks on the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Meanwhile, it seems Minnesota will be short a senator, at least for now. Coleman's term ended over the weekend, and his Senate office is directing constituents to contact Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar with their concerns.

Franken says he wants to get to work as soon as possible, but Republicans in the U.S. Senate are promising to fight any effort to seat Franken before the election contest is settled.

News reports quote Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying Franken won't be sworn in today along with newly elected senators from around the country. But Reid also reportedly said, in his mind, "the race in Minnesota is over."

Volume Button
Now Listening To Livestream
MPR News logo
On Air
MPR News