Former 'SNL' writer ahead in heated Senate race

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Victory in Minnesota’s drawn-out Senate race moved within Democrat Al Franken’s grasp Saturday when he increased his lead over Republican Norm Coleman as the statewide recount drew to a close.

The state Canvassing Board will reconvene Monday to declare which candidate received the most overall votes in the election. Barring court intervention, it will be Franken.

Franken’s lead now stands at 225 votes after gaining 176 votes more than Coleman in Saturday’s review of the formerly sealed absentee ballots. Franken started the day with a 49-vote advantage.

The 933 absentee ballots were among those rejected by poll workers but later found to be excluded in error. The campaigns eventually agreed they should be added to the recount.

Unless Coleman wins a pending court petition that seeks to add hundreds more ballots to the recount, the counting is done and the Canvassing Board can sign off on the result on Monday or Tuesday. The result cannot be certified for at least one more week under state law.

“We are confident since there are no ballots left to count the final margin will stand with Al Franken having won the election by 225 votes,” said Franken attorney Marc Elias.

The new total came on the day Coleman’s term as senator officially expired.

Senate Republican leaders have said the chamber shouldn’t seat Franken until all legal matters are settled, even if that drags on for months.

Coleman’s campaign has a pending request before the high court to include an additional 650 ballots that it said were improperly rejected but not forwarded by local officials to St. Paul for counting. The state Supreme Court has not said when it would rule in that case.

The Canvassing Board’s declaration of the winner of the recount opens a seven-day window for the losing candidate to challenge the result in court. Such a lawsuit could take months to resolve and leave Minnesota with only one senator for the time being.

Coleman hasn’t ruled out filing a lawsuit challenging the election result, claiming irregulaties gave Franken an unfair advantage. Coleman’s lead lawyer, Fritz Knaak, said the campaign was almost certain to sue.

“Ultimately I believe it’s going to be the senator’s decision based on our recommendation,” Knaak said. “At this point, my recommendation would be to move forward.”

Franken’s campaign has refused to outline its potential next steps.

Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said he doubted a lawsuit will get filed despite the tough talk.

“This is so accurate and has been done so carefully that the person with the least votes is going to say, ‘I’m disappointed, I’m sad, but I came in short this time,'” he said.

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