By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Entertainer-turned-politician Al Franken declared victory in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race yesterday, just hours after a state panel charged with overseeing the recount of nearly 3 million ballots certified that the Democrat had received 225 more votes than Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.
"After 62 days, after the careful and painstaking hand inspection of nearly 3 million ballots, after hours and hours of hard work by elections officials and volunteers across the state, I am proud and humbled to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota," Franken told supporters late yesterday afternoon.
But Coleman's legal team immediately signaled that he would contest the result, a move that threatens to hold up the issuance of an election certificate. The office of Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) said such a document must await the resolution of court challenges.
Republicans have strenuously protested the seating of Franken without full state certification, and leading Democrats last night reconsidered their plans to have Franken sworn in today, when the Senate formally convenes for the start of the 111th Congress.
"There will not be an effort to seat Mr. Franken" today, Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, said last night.
Coleman's counsel, Tony Trimble, said, "This process isn't at the end; it is now just at the beginning." Coleman was scheduled to make a statement on the race this afternoon in Minnesota.
The developments highlighted a wild day for Senate Democrats. Even as the certification of Franken as the victor exhilarated party strategists, the controversy over filling the Illinois seat being vacated by President-elect Barack Obama appeared to be coming to a head.
Roland Burris, the former Illinois attorney general appointed to replace Obama by embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) last week, said yesterday that he intended to be in Washington today for the official swearing-in. "I am the junior senator according to every law book in the nation," Burris told reporters yesterday afternoon at Chicago's Midway Airport, where he boarded a flight to Washington.
Senate Democrats have said they will not seat Burris because of the cloud of scandal hanging over Blagojevich, and they are likely to refer the appointment to the rules committee in hopes of buying themselves some time in the matter.
The Illinois Supreme Court, meanwhile, has not acted on two motions filed by Burris seeking to force Secretary of State Jesse White to sign his certificate of appointment to the Senate. Spokesman David Druker said that while White refuses to endorse the appointment, he also thinks Illinois law allows for Burris to take office regardless.
"We never thought we had veto power here," Druker said. "We thought the governor could at any point take the document and send it to Washington."
On Dec. 31, Burris filed a motion arguing that state law says it is the secretary of state's mandatory "duty" to sign off on the governor's appointments. Burris also filed a motion seeking an accelerated decision in the hopes of gaining the signature before he arrived in Washington yesterday.
Earlier yesterday, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a ruling that denied Coleman's efforts to count an additional 654 absentee ballots that had been rejected earlier, ending, for now, the incumbent's best chance of closing the gap with Franken.
The court -- in an opinion written by Justice Alan C. Page -- said that Coleman's attempt to include the rejected absentees did not meet the criteria for counting ballots laid out in a previous ruling, specifically that both sides had to be in agreement for any additional ballots to be counted.
"Because the parties and the respective counties have not agreed as to any of these additional ballots, the merits of this dispute (and any other disputes with respect to absentee ballots) are the proper subject of an election contest," Page wrote.
Trimble, in outlining the reasons for Coleman's planned election challenge, cited the "utter lack of uniformity" in deciding whether to include wrongly rejected absentee ballots in the final vote count as the "most troublesome aspect of the recount."
Among the other issues likely to be included in the Coleman election contest are the alleged double-counting of 150 votes, and the 133 votes that were included in the final total even though they disappeared from a Minneapolis church between election night and the recount.
Staff writers Perry Bacon Jr. and Paul Kane contributed to this report.