Recount: Coleman leads Franken by 316 votes

9:05 PM, Dec 3, 2008   |    comments
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ST. PAUL -- Senator Norm Coleman leads Al Franken by 316 votes based on recount totals through Wednesday. The percentage of votes counted is just under 98 percent in Minnesota's Senate race recount. 6,326 is now the total of challenged votes by Coleman and Franken. Earlier Wednesday, Franken said he was withdrawing 633 ballot challenges. Franken's attorney, Marc Elias, said many more withdrawals are likely. An attorney for Republican Norm Coleman said he may follow suit soon. Any reduction in the pile of challenged ballots -- more than 6,000 so far -- will reduce the work that faces the canvassing board that meets starting Dec. 16. Meanwhile, Franken appeared on track to lose 36 votes in Minneapolis due to an apparent Election Night counting error, just a day after he gained 37 uncounted votes in Ramsey County. A Franken spokesman said the incident demanded a better explanation. On the challenge issue, the Franken campaign mailed a letter to Secretary of State Mark Ritchie Wednesday with a list of specific challenges to discard. "If there are challenges that are without merit, it doesn't do either side any good to have them considered," Elias said. Coleman's attorney, Fritz Knaak, said the Republican's campaign has also been reviewing its challenges with an eye toward withdrawing some -- but said they wouldn't do so until after Friday, the deadline for the recount to end. "We don't want to send the wrong message to our volunteers still working at the recount sites," Knaak said. Franken's decision was the first step back from a high number of ballot challenges on both sides. Challenges range from ballots with votes for more than one candidate to many that simply had a pen scribble somewhere on the ballot. The number of challenges far exceeds the margin between the candidates, making it difficult to pin down whether the recount has been swinging the advantage toward one or the other. In the first count of votes, Coleman led Franken by 215. By the end of the day Tuesday, he led by 303 votes according to recount totals posted by the secretary of state. But that apparent lead was far overshadowed by the more than 6,000 ballots challenges filed by the two campaigns. It wasn't immediately clear what effect Franken's withdrawn challenges would have on the running margin between the candidates. While each candidate has challenged about the same number of votes, the types of challenges matter as well. Both candidates are attacking votes that would otherwise go to their competitor, but they're also challenging ballots where they feel they are entitled to a vote for themselves. So it's conceivable that Franken could pull back hundreds of challenges and not dramatically affect the vote gap between himself and Coleman. There was confusion in Minneapolis as the state's largest city wrapped up its recount, after officials discovered what they said was a pile of about 130 ballots that was counted twice on election day. City elections director Cindy Reichert said the ballots contained write-in votes and she believes they somehow were fed through a counting machine twice. Franken spokesman Andy Barr said the city's numbers didn't add up, and demanded that conflicting information be reconciled before the city's recount be declared finished. The disputed ballots were in a single precinct. Overall, both men lost in the Minneapolis recount, but Franken lost 126 votes more than Coleman. But 432 ballots have been challenged.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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