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Franken vote certified, but court to decide

Al Franken, with wife Franni, tells reporters gathered outside his Minneapolis home that he is "the next senator from Minnesota," following the state Canvassing Board's Monday certification of the Senate recount results.

ST. PAUL -- Norm Coleman declared victory the morning after the Nov. 4 election.

Al Franken claimed victory Monday, when a statewide U.S. Senate recount ended.

Judges, however, likely will decide Minnesota's next senator.

A state election board on Monday certified results of the two-month recount that gave Democrat Franken a 225-vote advantage over Coleman.

"Our recount process was long, it was fair and it was thorough," Franken told a crowd of reporters gathered outside his Minneapolis home Monday afternoon.

Earlier, Republican Coleman's campaign vowed to challenge the recount in court, promising to file a lawsuit today that could involve old and new arguments about the recount.

As a new Congress begins work today, Minnesotans may be represented by only one senator for some time. That was unclear Monday, as a number of scenarios appeared possible:

• Coleman could file a lawsuit today, as his attorneys promised, wasting little of the seven-day window he is allowed to challenge the results. That would prompt the appointment of a three-judge panel to oversee the state case.

• If he is unsuccessful in state court, Coleman could turn to the federal courts, claiming recount procedures violated federal voting laws.

• Democrats, who control the Senate, could attempt to provisionally seat Franken as early as today, pending the outcome of court challenges. Franken and his campaign refused to discuss that scenario. State and national Republicans criticized Democrats for raising that possibility.

• Coleman could accept the results and opt against a lawsuit. He is scheduled to speak to reporters this afternoon, but a terse statement issued Monday offered no further information.

Minutes after the Canvassing Board voted unanimously to approve the recount total, Coleman campaign attorneys stressed that only a result was certified and that state law requires a senator to be validly elected.

"This senator, if it becomes Al Franken, will not be validly elected," Coleman attorney Tony Trimble said. "It's time to correct the system, which is broken."

Trimble and fellow Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak said a lawsuit could challenge a number of issues, including how absentee ballots were handled, why votes were included where ballots could not be found and how Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat, handled the recount.

Franken called the recount victory "incredibly humbling."

"I want you all to know that I'm ready to go to Washington and get to work just as soon as possible," he said.

Initial election results gave Coleman the edge by about 700 votes. The morning after the election, when he was leading and declared victory, Coleman said he did not favor taking the race to court. However, in a Forum Communications interview later, he backtracked and said he could see filing a court case if circumstances changed.

Coleman entered the recount 215 votes ahead of Franken, but that lead disappeared. After a final stack of 933 wrongly rejected absentee ballots were counted Saturday, Franken had a 225-vote lead.

The results gave Franken 1,212,431 votes to Coleman's 1,212,206.

Canvassing Board members were confident of their work, which included spending days studying individual ballots to determine voters' intent.

"We've counted nearly 3 million ballots," Ritchie said. "We've determined how the citizens of Minnesota voted on Nov. 4."

Coleman's term ended Saturday, and Senate officials ordered his office closed Monday. Until a new Minnesota senator is seated, Coleman suggested that Minnesotans contact the office of fellow Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar or their area congressman instead of trying to reach his offices.

Klobuchar's office reported Monday it can handle the extra workload for a couple of weeks before calling in extra help.

But Republicans believe Coleman will be back.

The Coleman campaign sent a fund-raising letter to supporters late Monday, asking supporters to "help us continue to fight to ensure that every valid vote counts."

Minnesota Republicans want Coleman to fight the state Canvassing Board's decision and will step up to help fund the effort, said Tony Sutton, a state Republican Party official who helped Coleman during the recount.

Sutton said Coleman will have no trouble raising money to cover mounting legal bills related to the recount.

"It ain't over," he said.

State Capitol Bureau reporter Don Davis contributed to this story.