MINNEAPOLIS – With the state Canvassing Board ready to award the last pile of votes in Minnesota's U.S. Senate recount, Democrat Al Franken clung to a narrow lead over Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. The final count, however, showed no sign of being settled soon.
On Tuesday, the board was scheduled to award votes from a remaining group of about 5,000 challenges that had been withdrawn by both campaigns. Based on a draft report released late Monday by the secretary of state's office, Franken will have earned 48 more votes than Coleman once those votes are allotted.
Several outstanding issues could still affect the final vote count. The two campaigns and the secretary of state's office are negotiating how to handle an estimated 1,600 improperly rejected absentee ballots. In addition, the state Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday over a Coleman claim that about 130 ballots were counted twice.
Franken's 48-vote edge fell in line with a prediction issued by his campaign over the weekend, when attorney Marc Elias forecast that the Democrat would end up with a lead of 35 to 50 votes.
The Coleman campaign had been hoping that restored votes from the 5,000 withdrawn challenges would put the Republican back on top after Franken claimed his first lead Friday.
Now, Coleman's hopes hinge on two different scenarios: winning more than half of the votes in the improperly rejected absentee ballots or pulling ahead after alleged duplicate ballots are removed from the vote count — if the campaign's attorneys can first convince the state Supreme Court that there is a genuine problem with duplicate ballots. The Franken campaign has disputed that claim.
Coleman's campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan, said the latest numbers from the secretary of state amounted to an "artificial lead" for Franken because of the duplicate ballot issue.
"We have no doubt that when these issues are properly resolved, Senator Coleman will be re-elected to the Senate," Sheehan said in a statement.
Once the Canvassing Board restores the votes from the final group of 5,000 withdrawn challenges, Franken will have gained 3,191 votes out of the total pool of challenged votes and Coleman will have gained 2,955 votes. That adds up to a 236-vote advantage for Franken, enough to wipe out the 188-vote lead that Coleman had held before the Canvassing Board started ruling on disputed ballots. That was out of almost 3 million votes cast on Nov. 4.
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