Franken 'thrilled' over victory in Minnesota's long-running Senate race

Franken holds a press conference outside his home
Senator-elect Al Franken holds a press conference outside his home after it was announced by the Minnesota Supreme Court that he won the contest for Minnesota's remaining U.S. Senate seat.
MPR Photo/Steve Mullis

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie signed Al Franken's election certificate Tuesday evening.

The certificate and cover letter will be faxed to the Secretary of the U.S. Senate this evening and the original will be sent overnight and hand-delivered to the Secretary of the U.S. Senate tomorrow.

The mood was jubilant outside Democrat Al Franken's Minneapolis condominium late Tuesday afternoon, as curious onlookers and supporters gathered to hear the first comments by Minnesota's long-awaited senator-elect.

"When you win an election this close, you know that not one bit of effort went to waste," Franken said to the cheering crowd. "I'm not going to Washington to be the 60th Democratic senator. I'm going to Washington to be the second senator from Minnesota. I can't wait to get started."

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Earlier this afternoon, Republican Norm Coleman conceded to Franken, just hours after the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld Franken's victory in the state's epic U.S. Senate election contest.

Signed election certificate
The election certificate signed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.
Photo Courtesy of the Office of Minnesota Secretary of State

Franken said he received a "very gracious" phone call from Coleman, in which the two men talked about their bitterly fought campaign and recount that lasted nearly eight months.

"It was a very nice moment between two people who fought hard," Franken said of the conversation with Coleman. "We agreed that it is time to bring this state together."

Coleman had hinted earlier that he might petition the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but at a mid-afternoon press conference outside his St. Paul home Tuesday he told reporters it was time to end the long-standing race.

"I join all Minnesotans in congratulating our newest United States Senator, Al Franken," Coleman said. "I don't reach this point with any big regrets. I ran the campaign I wanted. I conducted the legal challenge I wanted. And I have always believed you do the best you can and leave the results up to a higher authority. I'm at peace with that."

In a statement, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he will sign the election certificate later this afternoon.

"In light of that decision and Senator Coleman's announcement that he will not be pursuing an appeal, I will be signing the election certificate today as directed by the court and applicable law," Pawlenty said.

Norm Coleman concedes Senate race
Norm Coleman held a press conference at his St. Paul residence to concede the Senate race and congratulate opponent Al Franken. On Tuesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court announced its ruling in favor of Al Franken.
MPR Photo/Steve Mullis

In its 32-page ruling, the state's highest court unanimously rejected Coleman's appeal of a lower court's ruling that put Franken ahead by 312 votes.

"We affirm the decision of the trial court that Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator from the State of Minnesota," the court wrote in the order.

The court rejected all of Coleman's arguments that sought to include more absentee ballots into the count. The decision came after 30 days of deliberation, and nearly eight months since Minnesotans cast their ballots at the polls.

Speaking on Minnesota Public Radio, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said his office is ready to co-sign the election certificate.

"The order said very explicitly that Al Franken received the highest number of votes cast," Ritchie said. "We are ready to co-sign as soon as it's prepared and signed by the governor."

Media gather at Al Franken's home in Minneapolis
The media and a crowd of supporters gathered on the front steps of Al Franken's Minneapolis home after it was announced by the Minnesota Supreme Court that he won the election for Minnesota's remaining U.S. Senate seat.
MPR Photo/Steve Mullis

According to a spokesman in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office, Franken may be seated as early as next week. The Senate is in recess now for the July 4 holiday.

"The Senate looks forward to welcoming Senator-elect Franken as soon as possible," Reid said in a statement. "After all the votes have been counted and recounted, the Minnesota Supreme Court has made the final determination that Minnesotans have chosen Al Franken to help their state and our country get back on track."

In its order, the court found that:

1. Coleman did not establish that the lower court's decision constituted a post-election change in standards that violates substantive due process;

2. Coleman did not prove that either the trial court or local election officials violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection;

3. The trial court did not abuse its discretion when it excluded additional evidence;

4. Inspection of ballots is available only on a showing that the requesting party cannot properly be prepared for trial without an inspection. Because appellants made no such showing here, the trial court did not err in denying inspection;

5. The trial court did not err when it included in the final election tally the Election Day returns of a precinct in which some ballots were lost before the manual recount.

After the seven-week recount contest, Coleman's attorney had argued that the three-judge panel applied too strict a standard in deciding which absentee ballots to count, and that they didn't adhere to the Constitution in coming up with that tally.

That argument relied on the fact that poll workers rejected some ballots for reasons that were not considered grounds for rejection by poll workers in other counties.

Coleman argued that because some counties used looser standards than others, the state should now allow all ballots to be counted using those looser standards.

"The trial court found no allegations or evidence of fraud or foul play and no evidence to suggest that the Election Day totals from the precinct are unreliable," the Supreme Court said in its order.

Throughout the recount contest, Franken attorneys argued that rejected ballots amounted to "minor variations" that are insufficient to trigger equal protection concerns.

On Tuesday, Coleman did not immediately comment on his plans for the future, although he hasn't publicly ruled out a run for governor in 2010.

(Reporters Tom Scheck and Mark Zdechlik contributed to this report.)