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In Minnesota, the race for the U.S. Senate is now before a panel of three judges. The vote in November was very close. The final tally put Republican incumbent Norm Coleman ahead. Then a recount gave Democrat Al Franken the lead by 225 votes. So Coleman is now contesting the recount. Minnesota Public Radio's Tom Scheck has our story.
TOM SCHECK: After nearly three months of waiting to find out just who is Minnesota's other senator, the feeling here can largely be summed up in four words - when will it end? Even the candidates sense the frustration. Republican Norm Coleman urged patience when he spoke with reporters inside the state Capitol last week. He alleges that some of Democrat Al Franken's ballots were counted twice in the recount. He also wants some rejected absentee ballots included.
Senator NORM COLEMAN (Republican, Minnesota): Minnesotans need to have a sense of confidence that whoever is their senator got elected fairly and that nobody's ballot was counted twice. That's an affront to each and every voter in this state. So, it's going to take a little while. I hope it goes very quickly.
SCHECK: This trial is just the latest turn in a rollercoaster Senate race that had Coleman barely leading after votes were counted on Election Day. But following a tedious hand recount of nearly three million votes, Franken took over the lead. No one knows how long this trial will take since it could lead to more hearings, more ballot inspections, and even another recount. Franken attorney Marc Elias is confident though that Franken will keep his lead. He calls Coleman's strategy a "dollar and a dream."
Mr. MARC ELIAS (Attorney, Al Franken): It's kind of like buying a lottery ticket. They have to hope to find some category of ballots and then hope that when they open that category of ballots, they find some cache of votes that will allow them to make up what is right now a fairly comfortable lead of 225 votes.
SCHECK: For his part, Al Franken has largely stayed out of the public eye. He did appear at a photo-op last week with Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, but avoided election talk. Instead, he was trying to sound senatorial.
Mr. AL FRANKEN (Democratic Senate Candidate, Minnesota): We've got to get to work and to address the problems that we have. And so that's what we're doing here today. We're talking about the stimulus package, about the calendar here in the Senate, so that when I do get here we can - I can hit the ground running.
SCHECK: Franken and the Democrats appear to be running out of patience though. They want the state Supreme Court to order Minnesota's Republican governor and its Democratic secretary of state to sign an election certificate declaring Franken the winner. But both politicians say state law prevents them from doing that. As the candidates wrangle over each and every vote, Minnesota is playing shorthanded. University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs says that means one fewer politician to push the state's agenda.
Dr. LAWRENCE JACOBS (Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota): This is particularly the case as we see perhaps a trillion dollars of stimulus dollars flowing out of Congress. You'd like to be at full strength to make sure that Minnesota's interests are protected.
SCHECK: But there's not guarantee that this trial will close the chapter on the 2008 election. The loser can still appeal to the state Supreme Court or make an argument before federal court. Those actions could prompt a frustrated electorate to demand an end to an election night that's stretched to 84 days. For NPR News, I'm Tom Scheck in St. Paul.
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