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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published November 04 2010

Judges to wade through ballots in Minnesota's too-close-to-call governor's race

ST. PAUL – Hit the rewind button for 2008.

Minnesotans probably will wait weeks to find out who they elected governor while they watch judges wade through stacks of ballots to decide a winner in the tight race.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the process of determining the governor winner between Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer will be much like in the 2008 U.S. Senate recount. That recount and a court challenge that followed delayed Al Franken’s victory for eight months.

The Minnesota Republican Party gave every indication it is gearing up for a rough fight by bringing in a Washington, D.C., recount expert to organize its effort to overturn a 9,000-vote governor’s race deficit.

With all precincts reporting, Dayton held 919,238 votes to Emmer’s 910,382.

That is a 43.64 percent to 43.21 percent split.

State law requires a recount if the difference between the candidates is 0.5 percent or less, and the governor’s race falls within that margin.

“The race for governor is not over,” GOP Chairman Tony Sutton said Wednesday.

During voting on Tuesday, Sutton complained that vote scanning machines were breaking down all over the state. Then on Tuesday night, Hennepin County made a 400,000 vote-reporting mistake, which added 60,000 votes to Emmer’s total and tightened the race considerably.

“We are concerned there are so many discrepancies,” Sutton said.

Dayton said he, too, wants to make sure votes are accurately counted. But he said that the governor is supposed to take over in two months. And he needs to have a team in place and present a budget proposal for the Legislature three weeks later, a tough task if he cannot get started soon on plugging the expected $6 billion deficit.

Dayton downplayed his campaign’s efforts to become involved in the recount process, saying local and state elections officials are competent to check the votes. However, he added, he has talked to lawyers about watching the situation.

Unofficial vote totals the secretary of state released Wednesday are bound to change in the next couple of weeks, Republican Party attorney Tony Trimble said, as local officials correct any errors in the returns they reported Tuesday night or Wednesday.

Corrected local returns will be given to the state Canvassing Board in time for a Nov. 23 meeting to determine whether a candidate has enough votes to be declared the winner. If the vote remains within 0.5 percent, state law requires a recount unless the trailing candidate rejects it.

If the vote is in that margin, a recount will be ordered of the 2.1 million votes cast.

A recount could wrap up in December. However, if the loser takes the recount to court, as Sen. Norm Coleman did when he lost his 2008 re-election bid, a decision may not come for several more months. The courts handed Franken the Senate seat on June 30, 2009, eight months after the election.

If the same thing happens in the governor’s race, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty would stay in office until a replacement is confirmed.

“My administration is fully committed and prepared to accomplish the swift and orderly transition to the next governor as soon as a final determination is made,” Pawlenty said in a statement. “As required by Article V of the Minnesota Constitution, I will continue to serve as governor until a new governor takes the oath.”

Sutton, Dayton and Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove, who is expected to be the next House speaker, would not talk about the possibility being rumored in the Capitol that Republicans would like to draw out the recount and court challenge so the Legislature under Republican control would have a Republican governor to approve bills before Democrat Dayton takes the helm.

Sutton said after the 2008 U.S. Senate recount that Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat, should have fixed problems with the process.

“We are being very aggressive,” Sutton said. “We are not going to be rolled this time.”

Sutton indicated that he suspects something is amiss because Republicans did so well in the Legislature and the GOP’s Chip Cravaack even beat longtime U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, but Emmer failed to get the votes to win.

“Something doesn’t smell right,” Sutton said, saying that Emmer’s apparent loss could be “fraud or incompetence.”

Ritchie said Tuesday’s election came off with few problems.

Republicans planned to send people to watch ballots in courthouses, in some cases 24 hours a day, to prevent any tampering.

While not endorsing GOP efforts, Dayton said that a recount is “entirely appropriate to ensure that the will of the voters will be fulfilled properly and accurately.”

Dayton said he has not decided whether he will begin a transition to become governor. That decision will come in a few days, he said.

Emmer did not talk publicly after 2 a.m. Wednesday, but sent a statement: “There is a process in law that will ensure that we arrive at a conclusive result, ensuring that all valid votes are counted and the will of the voters is met.”


Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.