Tom Scanlon surveys the scene from the bar he owns, just across a recycling plant on the industrial outskirts of St. Paul, Minn. "You just get used to it," he says. But he's not just talking about the state's notoriously long and frigid winters. Scanlon, 63, breaks into a laugh with a slightly Irish lilt. He's also talking about the unending senatorial contest the state is going through. "It just keeps going on and going on," he says. Indeed, in this northern state, patience is not a virtue it's a necessity. Minnesotans, nevertheless, long for warmer weather and one clearly identifiable junior U.S. Senator. "I think [Republican incumbent Norm] Coleman should just resign," Scanlon adds.
Two months after Election Day, Minnesota's State Canvassing Board certified the results of the state's protracted U.S. Senate race on Monday, declaring former comedian and Democratic challenger Al Franken the winner by 225 votes. Franken made an acceptance speech just hours after the board met and the certification put a temporary stamp on the two-month recount. Franken, however, doesn't yet have the election certificate needed to take his seat in Washington, and a lawsuit filed by Coleman threatens to entangle the race in even more months of legal wrangling. (See pictures from the historic Election Day.)
By state law, a candidate has one calendar week to contest the results of a recount to a three-judge panel appointed by the chief justice of the state's supreme court. Coleman, who led the race by 215 votes on Election Day, filed suit the very next day. He declared, in an "equal protections" clause argument, that there had been inconsistencies in the way in which counties tallied absentee ballots that election officials had mistakenly rejected. Moreover, Coleman alleges that 150 ballots were counted twice and that the board incorrectly included 133 ballots that had gone missing at a Minneapolis precinct. "[Coleman's] legal theory is fine; he just has to have the facts to support it," says Guy-Uriel Charles, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who specializes in election law. "I think this contest is going to be an uphill battle for Coleman."
Minnesotans across the state, from bartenders to farmers, say they are growing tired of the endless election and of watching a decision purportedly of the people turn into a legal free-for-all among high-powered politicians, lawyers and judges. "The politicians are going to decide it, the lawyers are going to decide it," says Dan Solem, 44, a trucker from Minneapolis who voted for Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley. "It's kind of a joke." Added Sarah MyTych, 21, a student at the University of Minnesota: "It just all seems like such a circus." (Read "Minnesota, This Is Your Senator".)
But Coleman supporters remain steadfast that their candidate should contest the results. As they and Coleman argue, it's the legitimacy of the election that matters, not how fast it's completed. Further, two major metropolitan newspapers, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the former of which endorsed Coleman, editorialized Tuesday that an election contest by Coleman is necessary because the Minnesota State Canvassing Board doesn't have the authority of review.
At Coleman's first public appearance here since Election Day when he asked Franken to refrain from taking the race to a recount but later apologized for the comment Coleman stood in a room full of supporters in the State Office Building and declared, "While I understand there is a desire by a small number of people to simply move on, something greater than expediency is at stake here ... Sometimes [democracy] is messy and inconvenient, and reaching the best conclusion is never quick because speed is not the best directive fairness is." When reporters mentioned the names of Senate majority leader Harry Reid and Franken, Coleman's crowd hissed, jeered and booed. As Coleman left the room, the supporters chanted, "Keep on fighting, keep on fighting."
Coleman also wants to get roughly 650 improperly rejected absentee ballots included in the results. The state supreme court ruled earlier in response to a petition from Coleman's campaign that the absentee ballots shouldn't be counted that both campaigns must agree upon which of the roughly 1,600 improperly rejected absentee ballots to include in the results. They came to a consensus on about 950 of those ballots. When asked about Coleman's argument that all of those improperly rejected absentee ballots should be counted, Solem, the trucker says, "Well, I guess they should count those. But it'd be nice if they just got this done and over with." Minnesotans, it appears, will just have to endure this recount like another bad winter.