Page last updated at 01:40 GMT, Wednesday, 1 July 2009 02:40 UK

Q&A: Minnesota Senate election

Norm Coleman (left) and Al Franken (right)
Mr Coleman (left) has pledged to fight Mr Franken in the courts

Democrat Al Franken has won the 2008 Minnesota senate race after a lengthy recount process and drawn-out court battle.

The initial electronic vote count indicated that Republican incumbent Norm Coleman was the winner, but after a recount by hand, Mr Franken took the lead.

Mr Coleman then launched a legal challenge.

Why is the outcome of this race so crucial?

Mr Franken's victory gives the Democrats the 60-seat majority needed to overturn attempts by the Senate minority to block legislation using a filibuster.

What happened on election night?

As the votes were being counted on 4 November, Norm Coleman appeared to be heading for a narrow victory.

But his lead dwindled, and eventually media outlets who had called the race for Mr Coleman retracted their calls.

The electronic vote counting machines used to tally the ballots gave Mr Coleman a 215-vote lead. This represented less than 0.0075% of the more than 2.8 million votes cast.

Under Minnesota law, an automatic manual recount is triggered if a candidate's winning margin is less than 0.5% of the total votes cast, and so a hand recount was duly ordered by the Minnesota State Canvassing Board.

Who won the recount?

The full manual recount of the ballots began on 19 November, but the results were not certified until 5 January 2009.

When the results were finally announced, Al Franken had reversed the election night result. The Board declared him the winner, by a 225-vote margin.

Why did the recount take so long?

As the votes were being recounted, observers from both campaigns were able to observe proceedings, and challenge any ballots that they deemed to have been counted incorrectly.

4 November: Election day
19 December: Recount begins
5 January: Recount results declared
13 April: Judges dismiss Mr Coleman's case
30 June: Minnesota Supreme Court declares Mr Franken the winner, Mr Coleman concedes

The challenged ballots were sent to the Minnesota State Canvassing Board, a bi-partisan five-person panel headed by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Richey.

The Board sorted through the challenged ballots, and ruled on their validity.

It also considered whether some of the invalid absentee ballots had been thrown out incorrectly.

What had changed to give Mr Franken the lead?

The manual recount picked up votes that the counting machines had missed.

Then, when the Board started reviewing the challenged ballots, Mr Franken was more successful than Mr Coleman at getting his challenges accepted; more Coleman votes were ruled invalid, and more Franken votes were ruled valid.

Plus, Mr Coleman's team failed to persuade the Board that a number of absentee ballots had been incorrectly thrown out.

Did Mr Coleman accept the recount?

No. Mr Coleman filed a legal challenge to the results, and under Minnesota law, the results cannot be certified until the election contest has been decided.

What was the basis for Norm Coleman's legal challenge?

His lawyers argued that some votes from Franken had been counted twice, that 132 ballots had been counted that should not have been, and that 654 valid absentee ballots (cast in counties that had supported Mr Coleman) had been wrongly rejected.

Meanwhile, the Franken camp filed a motion calling for the Coleman challenge to be dismissed, but their motion was itself dismissed, and the Coleman challenge was heard by a three-person panel of judges.

What did the judges decide?

The panel rejected the suggestion that the 654 absentee ballots had been wrongly rejected, leading Coleman's team to seek to re-open all 12,000+ rejected absentee ballots and subject them to review.

After much legal wrangling, the court ruled that only 351 of the rejected absentee ballots had been wrongly thrown out.

Of these, 111 were given to Mr Coleman, 198 to Mr Franken, and 42 to other candidates.

The court - in its final ruling on 13 April - also dismissed Mr Coleman's claims about double-counted and inadmissible ballots.

So Mr Coleman's legal challenge ended up increasing Mr Franken's official lead to 312.

Did Mr Coleman accept the court ruling?

No. Mr Coleman filed an appeal against the judges' decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court, arguing that different standards were applied in the counting of absentee ballots in different counties.

What did the Minnesota Supreme Court decide?

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled unanimously on 30 June that Mr Franken should be certified as the winner.

The court rejected Mr Coleman's argument that additional absentee ballots should be counted.

So will Al Franken now be the junior senator for Minnesota?

Yes - The Supreme Court ruling prompted Mr Coleman to concede. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty will now officially certify Mr Franken's victory and he will be able to take his seat in the senate.

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