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Franken won't waive recount

Democrat Al Franken, with his wife Franni. staff photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL - Al Franken's position is as firm as the election results are fluid.

The Democrat said Thursday he will not waive a recount in Minnesota's U.S. Senate contest, pointing to a narrowing margin between himself and Republican Sen. Norm Coleman as initial results are reviewed.

A day earlier, Coleman claimed victory, expressed confidence in the election system and noted his opponent could forego the state-mandated -- and funded -- recount to save taxpayer money.

"Candidates don't get to decide when the election's over or who won - the voters do," Franken said on Minnesota Public Radio. "And the Senate race isn't over until we know that every vote cast was properly counted."

That count has continued to change - generally in Franken's favor.

Unofficial results from the secretary of state's office Thursday afternoon showed Coleman leading Franken by 336 votes, down from an earlier margin of more than 700. The unofficial tally gave Coleman 1,211,542 (41.99 percent) to Franken's 1,211,206 (41.98 percent).

Coleman's recount team is changing, too. The campaign announced Wednesday evening that former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger, a Republican, would oversee the recount for Coleman. But Heffelfinger removed himself Thursday morning, saying he had to focus on guiding a city of St. Paul review of law enforcement practices during the Republican National Convention.

"I have realized that taking a leadership role with Sen. Coleman's recount team would interfere with my commitment to the city and the RNC inquiry," Heffelfinger said.

Coleman's campaign planned to name a replacement.

State law says a recount is triggered when an election outcome is within 0.5 percent, though a candidate can waive the recount.

"We're just going to have a little extra patience, but I'm very confident that this will be done in the right way," Franken said of the process. "I'm either going to win this election or I'm not."

Franken said Minnesota recounts have concluded with different winners - he cited the 2006 St. Louis County attorney race - but said he would be the first to congratulate Coleman if the recount showed the senator won.

The Senate results are changing because as local election officials double-check their numbers they may find errors, such as transposed digits, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said. That can happen in the days after an election and before counties certify their results

State and local election officials are preparing to recount the nearly 2.9 million ballots cast in Tuesday's contest. That process of manually checking every ballot will begin Nov. 19, one day after a state canvassing board certifies election results.