On 10th anniversary of recount, Coleman still convinced he won

November 28, 2018 06:25 PM

There is not a trace of bitterness in former Republican U.S. Senator Norm Coleman regarding his historically narrow loss to Democrat Al Franken in the 2008 election.

"For me, I was glad when it was over, and really as I look back, I have no regrets about being where I am today versus where I would be if there were a different outcome," Coleman said.


Coleman is now working for a law firm with offices in Minneapolis and Washington D.C., and heavily involved in public policy and electoral politics.

He's also battling neck and throat cancer that recently spread to his lungs.

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But while there is no bitterness, make no mistake: Coleman still believes he won the 2008 election.

"I do, I do believe," he said in an interview in his Minneapolis law office. "Do I believe there were more votes for Coleman than there were Franken? I do."

A hand recount of millions of ballots and legal challenges over thousands of absentee ballots determined otherwise.

The morning after the election in 2008, Coleman had a 725-vote lead. After adjustments and double-checking vote totals, Coleman's lead dwindled to 215 votes by the time a hand recount began two weeks after the election.

When the recount was done and the state's canvassing board reviewed challenged ballots, the outcome had been reversed.

On Jan. 5, 2009, Franken led by 225 votes.

"In November, when the machines were certified, I won the count on the votes that were counted that night," Coleman said.

The race was so close that it easily met the standard for an automatic publicly-funded recount.

A lengthy legal battle over absentee ballots lasted another six months after Franken's lead was certified. Coleman is still convinced that many absentee ballots favorable to him were rejected in counties ordinarily won by Republicans,

"Different standards," Coleman said shaking his head. "In Carver County, if you have an absentee ballot, witnesses have to be a registered voter. So I think they threw out a 180 votes in Carver County from votes that were cast, but the guy who signed it and witnessed it wasn't registered."

Coleman said far fewer ballots were thrown out in heavily Democratic counties like Hennepin and Ramsey.

A three-judge panel, and later the Minnesota Supreme Court, ruled against Coleman in his challenge regarding the handling of absentee ballots. 

Although they acknowledged the varying standards for rejecting or accepting the ballots, that wasn't enough to deprive Coleman of "equal protection" under the law.

After the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling on June 30, 2009, Coleman agreed it was time to step aside rather than appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He ultimately was determined to have lost by 312 votes.

"It was like 'Okay, (the) people of Minnesota had been without a U.S. Senator until July,'" Coleman said. "They deserved a senator and I wasn't going to be standing in the way of Al Franken serving."

It was a tough way to conclude a career that included races for St. Paul mayor, Minnesota governor and the U.S. Senate. He had even delivered a victory speech the day after the 2008 election.

Surprisingly, he still has fond memories of that that momentary "victory" - even if it was illusory.

"God gave me the gift of going to sleep in 2008, ten years ago, thinking I had won, celebrating with my family," he said. "Life is good."

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Tom Hauser

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