A three-judge panel Tuesday awarded Democrat challenger Al Franken more votes in his bid to become Minnesota's next senator, but it will take additional court action to decide the final result in what is already the longest-running recount in the state's history.
The panel examined 351 ballots and added the result to previous counts, giving Franken a lead of 312 votes over Republican Norm Coleman. Franken began the day ahead by 225 votes of about 2.4 million cast in November.
Once the panel formally issues its ruling, it will be appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, said Benjamin L. Ginsburg, a lawyer for Coleman.
"Minnesota has a history of enfranchisement, but these three judges have disenfranchised" voters, Ginsburg said by telephone. He said he would ask the state's top court to examine about 4,700 more ballots and include them in the tally.
Franken attorney Marc Elias rejected that argument.
"The problem that Sen. Coleman has is he lost fair and square," Elias wrote in an e-mail. "He lost because more people voted for Al Franken than voted for Norm Coleman. No amount of lawyering or sophisticated legal arguments is going to change that."
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who was mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate in the last election and is considered a potential White House contender in four years, has said he will not certify the election until all the court challenges are resolved. Coleman, who was seeking his second term, has also indicated that he might seek federal court action as well.
Republicans at the national level see the race as key to the GOP's role in the Senate and have urged Coleman to take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court if needed.
If Franken is seated, Democrats would have 57 votes and, with the two independents who caucus with the Democrats, would be just one vote shy of the 60 needed to make their majority filibuster-proof.
After the voting on Nov. 4, Coleman, 59, was ahead of Franken, a comedian, author and radio commentator, by a few hundred votes in the first count. But a Jan. 5 recount put Franken ahead by 225 votes, and the two have been battling since over which additional votes should be counted.
While the sparring continued, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected Franken's bid to serve in the Senate, where Minnesota's senior senator, Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, has complained that her staff is overworked dealing with constituent issues.
The previous longest recount in Minnesota was the 1962 gubernatorial race, won by Karl Rolvaag, who unseated Republican Gov. Elmer L. Andersen by 91 votes.