Nearly two-thirds of Minnesotans surveyed think Norm Coleman should concede the U.S. Senate race to Al Franken, but just as many believe the voting system that gave the state its longest running election contest needs improvement.

A new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll has found that 64 percent of those responding believe Coleman, the Republican, should accept the recount trial court's April 13 verdict that Democrat Franken won the race by 312 votes.

Only 28 percent consider last week's appeal by Coleman to the Minnesota Supreme Court "appropriate."

Large majorities of those polled said they would oppose any further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Should Coleman win at the state Supreme Court, 57 percent of respondents said Franken should concede. And 73 percent believe Coleman should give up if he loses at the state's highest court.

"I voted for Coleman, but this thing has gone on way too long," said Mike McCombs, 50, a Lakeville furnace and air conditioning salesman. "Obviously, the Republican Party is trying to keep Franken's vote out of the United States Senate. We should get another [senator] in there."

The random telephone survey of 1,042 Minnesota adult produced a sample consisting of 20 percent Republicans, 36 percent Democrats and 37 percent independents, with 6 percent offering no self-identification. The poll has a margin of sampling error of 4 percentage points, plus or minus.

The heart of Coleman's appeal is the 4,400 rejected absentee ballots that he says should be tallied because they're identical to ballots already counted.

"While we understand the frustration that Minnesotans have, it's important to get this right, not only for the 4,400 disenfranchised Minnesotans, but for everyone so that we can all have faith in the accuracy of the final outcome," said Coleman spokesman Tom Erickson.

Franken spokesman Andy Barr said the poll numbers speak for themselves.

"Minnesotans understand that this process has been meticulous and fair ... that our election system in Minnesota is sound and that Al Franken received more votes than Norm Coleman on Election Day," Barr said.

Frustration with system

Public fatigue with the Senate contest, now nearing the end of its sixth month, reverberates through the poll's findings.

Although 57 percent of Republican poll respondents approve of Coleman's appeal to the state Supreme Court, the same portion of Republicans want him to quit should he lose there.

Half of all Democrats polled also think Franken should concede if Coleman wins before the state high court, while only 38 percent prefer that the DFLer take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Independents would be more patient with a Franken appeal than one by Coleman, but a majority of that group think that either should call a halt once the Minnesota court rules.

Even Richard Nixon conceded a razor-close election in 1960 to John F. Kennedy, retired computer engineer Tom Cassidy pointed out.

"Whether Norm is right and things should be uniform in all counties, it doesn't matter now. It's like losing the flip of a coin," said Cassidy, 71, of Bloomington. "Call it a bad election and get on with it. I think the public is just sick of it."

The drawn-out election battle has done nothing to help the popularity of either candidate, but it has bruised Coleman worse than Franken.

Both men bruised

Only 38 percent of poll respondents said they viewed Coleman favorably, while 55 percent had an unfavorable impression. That continues a slide for Coleman that began last fall.

Franken hasn't lost much ground, but neither has he gained any. Although he has kept a low profile since the election, more Minnesotans continue to view him unfavorably than favorably, 48 to 43 percent.

Jerry Carr, 53, a junior high school teacher who lives outside of Proctor, said he supports Coleman and his appeal but that he would also back Franken's right to legal recourse if the shoe were on the other foot.

"I think this race has been way too close for anyone to say it's a slam-dunk one way or the other," Carr said. "Let's clear this thing up once and for all, then we can say we took it to every level we could and this is what we came up with."

The poll was conducted over a four-day period starting Monday, the same day Coleman confirmed widespread expectations that he would challenge Franken's recount trial victory in the state Supreme Court.

Fifty-seven percent of respondents thought the recount and seven-week trial were fair and impartial. Most poll respondents, however, were tougher on the state's election system, based on what they had learned since Election Day.

Vivian Peyman, a 62-year-old Fairmont grandmother who worked as an election judge, supported Coleman but said the recount was fair if it was any reflection of the care that Martin County officials took to strictly follow the rules in counting ballots.

Should Coleman continue? No, Peyman said, adding that it's probably a waste of time. She added: "I hate to see Franken be the winner, that's for sure."

Carol Johnson, 47, a Vining nurse who works in Fergus Falls and supported Franken, said she thought the recount and trial were as fair as possible.

"You can always have error, no matter what the voting process, because you have human hands in it," she said. "Even with computers, I don't think anything is 100 percent accurate."

But two-thirds said the election system either needed improvement (46 percent) or was seriously flawed (21 percent). Just 30 percent said they thought it generally accurate and fair.

"If people ever think about [casting] an absentee ballot, would they consider it?" asked Alice Olson, 77, a retired commercial artist from New Brighton. "I think [the recount] has shaken the confidence of people on both sides in the election system ... Maybe there needs to be a revamping."

Olson paused. "Well, I guess these things happen," she said. "Jesse Ventura got voted into office ... and we survived. We'll survive this, too."

John Heine, 54, a legal assistant from Minneapolis, said he thought the election system and trial were fair. A Democrat who voted for Franken, he supports Coleman's appeal and expects it to fail.

"It was a very open and transparent process in spite of the outside parties trying to score propaganda points," he said. "It's frustrating that it takes so long, but it's not a simple matter."

Kevin Duchschere • 651-292-0164