From NBC's Mark Murray and Harry Enten
In a conference call with reporters, Al Franken attorney Marc Elias said that after today's absentee ballot count in Minnesota -- in which Franken built on his 225-vote lead -- there is no doubt that the Minnesota Democrat won last November's Senate contest.
Elias also said that Republican Norm Coleman would have to consider whether appealing to the Minnesota Supreme Court would "be the right thing to do."
At the beginning of the call, Elias noted that after seven weeks of a legal contest that Coleman initiated, Franken ended up increasing his lead -- from 225 votes to 312 votes. He added that while the three-judge panel handling the legal contest still had to decide a couple of more matters, neither would alter the outcome. "The final result is no longer in doubt," he said.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who served as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, released this statement: "When you contest the results of an election, and you lose ground, you ought to know time is up. The people have spoken, and now that the courts have spoken, Norm Coleman ought to let the process of seating a senator go forward."
Yet in a dueling conference call, Coleman lawyer Ben Ginsberg maintained that the GOP senator would take the never-ending Minnesota recount fight to the state Supreme Court.
He said Coleman has three legal legs to stand on:
-- 1) The three-judge panel overseeing the ongoing recount put in place recounting methods that were not in place in any county or district on Election Day.
-- 2) The panel ignored that different counties recounted identical ballots in different methods (an equal-protection violation).
-- 3) By the panel's own definition of what a legal vote is, there are "literally thousands of votes" that are in the count right now that if counted in the final count would be grounds for appeal.
But Elias argued the question isn't whether Coleman has the right to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. "It's whether filing an appeal would be the right thing to do for the state of Minnesota."
Asked to elaborate on that comment, Elias said that Minnesota currently has just one sitting U.S. senator. He also noted that the state had already conducted a hand recount; that a state canvassing board ruled on questionable ballots; and that there had been a seven-week trial on the recount.
"What process is left that they could want?"