Franken holds lead over Coleman

MINNEAPOLIS - December 22, 2008 - The board was scheduled to meet Tuesday and award votes from a remaining group of about 5,000 challenges that had been withdrawn by both campaigns.

Judging by a draft report released late Monday by the secretary of state's office, Franken will have earned a total of 48 more votes than Coleman once those votes are allotted. That's out of almost 3 million votes cast in the race in November.

Several outstanding issues could still affect the final vote count. The two campaigns and the secretary of state's office are negotiating how to handle an estimated 1,600 improperly rejected absentee ballots. In addition, the state Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear arguments over a Coleman claim that about 130 ballots were counted twice.

Franken's 48-vote edge fell in line with a prediction issued by his campaign over the weekend, when attorney Marc Elias forecast that the Democrat would end up with a lead of 35 to 50 votes.

The Coleman campaign had been hoping that restored votes from the 5,000 withdrawn challenges would put the Republican back on top after Franken claimed his first lead Friday.

Now, Coleman's hopes hinge on two different scenarios: winning more than half of the votes in the improperly rejected absentee ballots or pulling ahead after alleged duplicate ballots are removed from the vote count - if the campaign's attorneys can first convince the state Supreme Court that there is a genuine problem with duplicate ballots. The Franken campaign has disputed that claim.

Coleman's campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan, said the latest secretary of state's numbers amounted to an "artificial lead" for Franken because of the duplicate ballot issue.

"We have no doubt that when these issues are properly resolved, Senator Coleman will be re-elected to the Senate," Sheehan said in a statement released by the campaign.

Once the Canvassing Board restores the votes from the final group of 5,000 withdrawn challenges, Franken in all will have gained 3,191 votes out of the total pool of challenged votes and Coleman will have gained 2,955 votes. That adds up to a 236-vote advantage for Franken, enough to wipe out the 188-vote lead that Coleman had held before the Canvassing Board started ruling on disputed ballots.

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