RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Minnesota still hasn't declared a winner in its Senate race. The precinct-by-precinct recount of votes for Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman has ended. But today the state Canvassing Board begins looking at thousands of ballots that were challenged by each side. Just about every day, lawyers have been on the case.
(Soundbite of press conference)
Mr. MARC ELIAS (Lawyer): Thank you everyone for coming today. Good afternoon. Let me begin...
MONTAGNE: At press conferences, lawyers like Marc Elias of the Franken campaign have given updates on the vote spread, although spread may be too generous a word.
Mr. ELIAS: So the correct margin, as it stands, is at four votes with Al Franken the winner thus far. We now move to the next stage of the process.
MONTAGNE: That was a few weeks back, during the recount. And you heard him right, a four vote margin for Franken. Now with all precincts recounted, it's Coleman with the lead of fewer than 200 votes. Watching all of this unfold is journalist Jay Weiner who covers the recount for the Web site MinnPost.com. He took a break from his usual beat, sports, to report on the rough and tumble of politics.
Mr. JAY WEINER (Journalist, MinnPost.com): The campaign hasn't ended. We've got these briefings. They've been raising money because they've got armies of volunteers around the state, or at least they did through last week, making sure that election officials are counting properly. And to use the, you know, the sports metaphor, they're working the refs. The state Canvassing Board, made up of two Supreme Court judges of Minnesota, two district court judges, and the secretary of state, they're the ones who are going to decide on challenge ballots, which is coming up today. And then we'll have a count.
MONTAGNE: Tell us why a ballot might be challenged.
Mr. WEINER: Some people do strange things. They don't fill it all the way in. They scribble it in. Some people scribble over it. Some people fill it in, go, oops, I wanted to vote for Coleman, not Franken. They cross off the Franken one. And so the answer is there's many ways that ballots are messed up. That's what this Canvassing Board is going to have to decide. And they're going to have to, in some ways, read voters' minds and say it was his or her intent to vote for Coleman or for Franken.
MONTAGNE: Now, if it takes a week for the board to go through the ballots, it still won't necessarily be over, right? There are other issues...
Mr. WEINER: Correct. We should be finished with it this week, the actual challenge count. And then whoever doesn't win will definitely go to court. And then there's a bunch of absentee ballots that were rejected for wrong reasons, and they haven't been counted yet. So we're probably looking into the plus-Christmas period in the courts. And then we have the January 6 deadline, really, of when a new senator is sworn in. So I'm going to guess it's going to run up all the way till then, because the legal teams still have some billable hours left on them.
MONTAGNE: Is it possible it could go beyond that?
Mr. WEINER: I think the answer is it's possible. If the margin is, you know, 42 votes, there will absolutely be crazy challenges because people will say a vote wasn't counted or certain votes should not have been counted. If we're in that 300 margin, you know, I think it's going to be hard for people to logically continue to challenge it. I'm just thinking about the politics of it. But there seems to be a desire on the part of both campaigns to keep on keeping on. So, yes, and the U.S. Senate, of course, there is a constitutional amendment in the U.S. Constitution. The Senate has the right to seat the person who they want to seat. It could come to that.
MONTAGNE: So the mood there is what in the Twin Cities?
Mr. WEINER: Well, first it's cold. It's minus eight. You can't recount minus eight. It is minus eight. Secondly, I would say there's a little bit of embarrassment that we're a clean state, have been known as a clean state. We had the highest turnout in the country this year, again. I think it was 78 percent. And then there's also this eye-opening mood that elections are imperfect. I don't think anybody realized how imperfect they could be, but when you get to a margin of one one-thousandth of a percentage point - and that's what the margin was between Coleman and Franken - that has kind of been a sobering thing.
And then, you know, the other point, which I think affects the mood here, is that neither one of these guys really won. I mean, both got 42 percent of the vote. It was a none-of-the-above kind of vote here. And so there is a core group of supporters, but there aren't people at the ramparts, you know, saying go, Al, go, Norm. So in general I think the mood is, when is it gonna be over? Let's get somebody in there. And maybe, will it ever end?
MONTAGNE: Jay Weiner is a longtime sports writer, now covering the recount in the Minnesota Senate race for the news Web site MinnPost.com. Thanks very much for filling us in.
Mr. WEINER: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: Our colleagues at Minnesota Public Radio have made an interactive quiz based on actual ballots in the Franken-Coleman race. You can see contested ballots and decide on them for yourself at npr.org.
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