Minnesota Court: Franken Beat Coleman

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A Minnesota court confirmed Monday that
Democrat Al Franken won the most votes in his 2008 Senate race
against Republican Norm Coleman, who immediately announced plans to
appeal the decision.

Coleman has 10 days to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Once
the petition is filed, it could further delay the seating of
Minnesota's second senator for weeks.

"It's time that Minnesota like every other state have two"
senators, a jovial Franken said outside his Minneapolis townhouse
with his wife Franni at his side. "I would call on Senator Coleman
to allow me to get to work for the people of Minnesota as soon as

After a statewide recount and seven-week trial, Franken stands
312 votes ahead. He gained more votes from the election challenge
than Coleman, the candidate who brought the legal action.

The state law under which Coleman sued required three judges to
determine who got the most votes and is therefore entitled to an
election certificate, which is now on hold pending an appeal.

"The overwhelming weight of the evidence indicates that the
November 4, 2008, election was conducted fairly, impartially and
accurately," the judges wrote. "There is no evidence of a
systematic problem of disenfranchisement in the state's election
system, including in its absentee-balloting procedures."

In its order, the judicial panel dismissed two attempts by
Coleman to subtract votes from Franken over allegations of
mishandled ballots in Minneapolis.

The judges also rejected Coleman's argument that a state board
improperly made up for a packet of ballots lost between the
election and the recount. His lawyers contended that the ballots'
disappearance rendered them invalid and that Coleman was entitled
to review all ballots as part of the recount.

Coleman's lawyers claimed dozens of ballots were double-counted
when their originals couldn't be fed into optical scanning machines
on Election Day. They said it was possible that originals and
duplicates were included in the recount.

The ruling diminishes Coleman's chances of retaining a seat that
he won in dramatic fashion in 2002, when he narrowly defeated
former Vice President Walter Mondale. Democratic incumbent Paul
Wellstone died in a plane crash with two weeks to go in the

Franken, a former "Saturday Night Live" comic, entered the
Senate race more than two years ago. A third-party candidate's
strong showing left Coleman and Franken virtually deadlocked on
Election Night, triggering an automatic recount of 2.9 million
ballots. Coleman led by about 700 votes before routine
double-checking of figures trimmed his edge to 215 votes heading
into the hand recount. By the recount's end in January, Franken had
pulled ahead by 225 votes.

Coleman's trial began in January and his appeal could push the
race into May or beyond.

Coleman's lawyers have said their appeal will mostly center on
violations of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection,
arguing that counties had differing standards in treating absentee

Franken's attorneys argued that no election is absolutely
precise and that all counties operated under the same standard.

In addition to the appeal, Coleman can also initiate a new
action on a federal level. Either side can appeal an eventual state
Supreme Court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court or throw the
disputed election before the U.S. Senate, which can judge the
qualifications of its members.

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