Coleman leads Franken by 206 votes

The Coleman and Franken campaigns traded shots Monday as counties completed the process of certifying their vote tallies and officials prepared to start recounting nearly 3 million ballots in the U.S. Senate race.

Six days after the election, unofficial results showed Republican Sen. Norm Coleman leading Democratic challenger Al Franken by 206 votes, a difference of about 1/100th of 1 percent that sets the stage for the automatic hand recount that will begin next week.

Monday was the deadline for counties to certify their results. Depending on the unknown number that may not have yet reported them to the state, that 206 figure could still change before the state Canvassing Board meets next week to certify the official total. Only then will the recount begin.

Officials with Hennepin County forwarded their tally Monday to the secretary of state's office, showing that, since initial results Wednesday, Franken's total had increased by 55 votes and Coleman's by 27 in the state's largest county.

Adjustments in the vote tallies because of misplaced figures and other errors have been limited to 22 of the state's 87 counties, according to an analysis of the fluctuations from Wednesday to Monday.

Since the preliminary Election Day numbers, Franken's biggest gains were in Lake County, where he added 246 votes, and in Pine and St. Louis counties, where he picked up 100 in each.

Coleman's biggest gain was in Ramsey County, 29 votes, but that was more than canceled out by an additional 41 votes there for Franken. Coleman's biggest drop was 124 votes in Anoka County, where Franken also lost 90 votes.

Meanwhile, both campaigns spent much of the day fencing over exactly how to secure the ballots that will be recounted and possibly laying the groundwork for further legal callenges.

Both campaigns have laid out detailed plans that would seek to preserve nearly every scrap of paper related to the election, including unused ballots, spoiled ballots, voter registration cards, voting machine tapes and even preelection tests of the optical scanners used to count votes.

Over the weekend, Coleman campaign attorney Fritz Knaak suggested that both campaigns adopt a precise list of procedures handed down Saturday by a Stearns County district judge. They include requiring that ballots remain at all times under lock and key in a room that can be entered only by two or more members of the auditor's staff and keeping a detailed log of those entering the room.

David Lillehaug, attorney for the Franken campaign, on Monday said the Stearns County rules -- which Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he also favors -- are too specific to be applied statewide. He added that the Franken camp wants broad preservation of election materials.

At the meeting Monday of Hennepin County's canvassing board, Lillehaug said the campaign knew of 461 Minneapolis voters whose absentee ballots had been unfairly rejected. People who were registered were told they weren't, and signatures were rejected that matched registration cards, he said.

Dan Rogan of the Hennepin County attorney's office said it was up to the state board to determine whether errors were made. The board turned down Lillehaug's request to reconsider the disputed ballots.

One dispute resolved

On Saturday, the Coleman campaign had asked for an injunction to stop the counting of 32 absentee ballots in Minneapolis that had not been delivered on Election Day. A judge declined to grant the injunction, and Knaak said Monday that "we've heard enough from the city attorney to let go of this. It does not appear that there was any ballot-tampering, and that was our concern."

Minneapolis city election officials said the 32 ballots were never "missing" and were delivered after Election Day.

Knaak said that with certified totals in, the campaign is now focused on the recount process.

Earlier Monday, Pawlenty had waded into the fracas, commenting on the 32 absentee ballots and saying he was concerned about "strange things happening in the context of this recount." He urged state election officials to "lock down" ballots as quickly as possible.

plopez@startribune.com • 651-222-1288 kduchschere@startribune.com • 651-292-0164

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