MINNEAPOLIS Democrat Al Franken beat Republican incumbent Norm Coleman to win the U.S. Senate seat from Minnesota, officials conducting a final recount said on Monday, though the loser promised to challenge the result.
The outcome found Franken edged Coleman by 225 votes out of nearly 2.9 million votes cast, but Coleman's lawyers complained the recount was conducted unfairly and promised a court contest that could take weeks to resolve.
"I don't think this is the last chapter. No system was designed to handle a race this close without a few squeaks," said Eric Magnuson, chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court and a member of the state Canvassing Board that oversaw the recount.
"All lawful votes were counted," said Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat, who was on the five-member board and defended its work as fair and transparent.
If the recount decision holds up President-elect Barack Obama's Democrats will control at least 58 of the 100 Senate seats in the new U.S. Congress, with one more possible once the Illinois seat vacated by Obama is filled. That seat is still in limbo because of the controversy over corruption charges against Illinois' Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Coleman, seeking a second term, had held a razor thin lead after the November 4 election over Franken, a well known satirist and a former writer and actor for the popular Saturday Night Live television show.
"After 62 days of careful, painstaking inspection of ballots, I am proud to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota," Franken, 57, told a news conference in front of his Minneapolis home with his wife Franni beside him.
He described the recount as "long, fair and thorough" and pronounced himself anxious to get to work as soon as possible.
However, it was doubtful Franken can take his seat when Congress convenes on Tuesday. Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's office said he cannot certify the result until the court challenge is resolved, giving Senate Republicans justification to block Franken from taking office.
Minnesota's Supreme Court on Monday turned down Coleman's motion asking that 654 excluded absentee ballots be added to the recount, with the court saying the issue would be better handled in the court challenge.
Coleman's campaign said the process was "broken" and the court's ruling made it inevitable it will contest the result, which a lawyer said will be filed on Tuesday. A three-judge panel will then investigate the claims.
"Let's take the extra time and get the right result," said Coleman lawyer Tony Trimble.
Coleman's campaign has complained the recount has favored Franken by excluding some absentee ballots, double-counting some votes and counting some ballots that went missing. Franken's campaign countered with similar claims of uncounted ballots and Coleman votes counted twice.
(Writing by Andrew Stern; editing by Michael Conlon and Jackie Frank)