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Franken's Lead Grows In Minn.'s Senate Race

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By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Democrat Al Franken yesterday increased his small lead over Republican Norm Coleman in the protracted dispute over the race for a U.S. Senate seat representing Minnesota, but it remains unclear when the five-month legal battle will end.

A state court ordered more than 300 absentee ballots that had previously been excluded to be counted yesterday, and the results increased Franken's lead from 225 votes to 312.

Though the three-judge panel reviewing the election has not finished making all of its rulings, the count will make it virtually impossible for Coleman to move ahead of Franken in this stage.

Lawyers for Coleman, who had held his seat since 2003, have said he will appeal the panel's decisions to the Minnesota Supreme Court, arguing that the standards for determining which ballots to count have been inconsistent and that thousands of additional absentee ballots should have been counted.

About 12,000 of the 280,000 absentee ballots were excluded for reasons such as improper voter registration. About 2.9 million people voted in the November election.

A six-week recount that ended in early January put Franken ahead by 225 votes. Coleman filed a lawsuit contesting that result, putting the election before this panel of judges.

A decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court, if it comes to that, may not end the matter. Republicans have suggested that Coleman could challenge the state courts' decisions in federal court.

Senate Republicans have encouraged Coleman to continue his challenge, saying that until the legal process is finished, it is not clear who won. Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the court had "disenfranchised" some voters. "The message from our side has remained consistent throughout this process," he said. "We want this election to resolve itself quickly, but not at the expense of Minnesota's laws or voters."

Democratic leaders, eager to get the 59th vote for their party in the Senate, called on Coleman to stop his legal fight. "When you contest the results of an election and you lose ground, you ought to know time is up," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), vice chair of the Democratic Conference.

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