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Recount required; Franken claims voter 'irregularities'

Democrat Al Franken stands in front of reporters Wednesday morning, saying he is optimistic a recount will end with him winning Minnesota's U.S. Senate seat. With him is his wife, Franni. Staff photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL - Al Franken says a few hundred votes will separate him and incumbent U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman once all returns from Tuesday's vote are tallied, probably today, but what he called "irregularities" may be enough to erase that margin in a recount.

"This race is too close to call," Franken said at 6:30 a.m., when votes from 10 precincts remained uncounted.

Moments earlier, The Associated Press declared Coleman the winner, not taking into account any changes that may be made by a mandatory recount.

"The senator is thrilled and humbled to be given the opportunity to serve the people of Minnesota for another six years," Coleman Campaign Manager Cullen Sheehan said. "Today is a time for us to come together as a state and a nation. There is much work to be done, and the senator is ready to roll up his sleeves and bring people together to get it done."

Franken said he will not give up. He said his campaign, and that of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, heard about several problems on Election Day that could lead to a change in the returns. The only reported irregularity he or his campaign's attorney, David Lillehaug, would mention was a shortage of voter registration documents in Minneapolis.

This morning's developments are fitting for a Senate race that was the costliest in the country, and the state's history. It also was one of the most closely watched races nationally.

At 7 a.m. today, the Minnesota secretary of state's office reported Republican Coleman with 1,210,247 votes, for 42 percent. Democrat Franken followed with 1,209,124, which was 41.96 percent. The Independence Party's Dean Barkley trailed with 436,819, 15.16 percent of the vote.

The 0.04 percent margin between Franken and Coleman was well within the 0.5 percent difference that brings a statewide, and state funded, recount.

There was no immediate word on when the recount would begin or how long it will take.

"At the end of the day, there is reason to believe the voice of the people will be heard," Franken said.

He added: "This has been a long campaign. It is going to be a little longer."

Lillehaug said several cases of irregularities had been reported, but said at least some probably have no merit.

Minnesota GOP Chairman Ron Carey praised Coleman and said "we're confident the results will stand."

The last major recount was in the 1962 governor's race.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.