Minn. Senate winner won't be known in 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota voters won't know who won the state's U.S. Senate race this year, and it's looking more likely that the new Congress will be sworn in before the race ends between Democrat Al Franken and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman.

The state Canvassing Board today scheduled a Jan. 5 meeting and its chairman said the panel's work could spill into Jan. 6 — the day the next Congress convenes.

Franken leads Coleman with an increasingly small number of ballots yet to consider. A draft report by the secretary of state's office has Franken up by 48 votes. The board was meeting today to discuss that report, although corrections to it won't be done until next week.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said there is no way the board will certify a winner this year. Counties have until Dec. 31 to submit new vote totals to the board that includes the counting of absentee ballots under a court order.

"We are not in any way guided by any Washington consideration, timeline," said Ritchie, a Democrat. "These folks have people's lives in their hands."

Coleman's campaign is disputing the allocation of some challenged ballots, which would add up to a 49 vote swing in the incumbent's favor. Franken's campaign has also brought some potential errors to the board's attention, which it says amounts to 43 potential votes in the Democrat's favor.

What's more, the Coleman campaign was due to go before the state Supreme Court later today to argue for the disqualification of ballots it claims were double counted.

Regardless of the outcome of that case, the vote totals could shift again when local elections officials open as many as 1,600 absentee ballots that were incorrectly rejected on Election Day. Franken's campaign fought for their inclusion, but it is anyone's guess how those votes will break.

The race was thrown into overtime because Coleman led Franken by a mere 215 votes after the Nov. 4 count of about 2.9 million ballots. That was well within the automatic recount law triggered when races are within one half of one percentage point.

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