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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published November 30 2010

Dayton picks up 24 votes as recount begins

ST. PAUL – Recount 2010 started quietly Monday, with one exception, as Mark Dayton picked up a mere 24 votes in the Minnesota governor race.

Democrat Dayton extended his lead over Republican Tom Emmer to 8,794 votes out of 2.1 million ballots cast. Dayton picked up 20 votes while Emmer lost four as 44.7 percent of Nov. 2’s votes were recounted Monday.

The statewide, state-funded recount will last several days, but nearly 60 of the state’s 87 counties wrapped up their work in a single day.

One exception to a peaceful recount opening was in southwest Minnesota’s Renville County, where the count showed a one-vote change at the end of the day, but the 6,300 ballots counted produced 422 challenges by the Emmer camp that County Auditor Larry Jacobs deemed as frivolous.

Jacobs said the 422 challenges, all Dayton votes, were made by Emmer representatives who took the action because ballots had writing on them, including a large number with write-in candidates.

The 422 challenged ballots were counted, but the Minnesota State Canvassing Board could re-examine them next month.

Jacobs said a representative for Emmer’s office apologized for the large number of challenges, but said he had been instructed to challenge any ballots with writing on them. State Republican Chairman Tony Sutton could not explain why there were so many Renville challenges, by far the most in the state.

Otherwise, relatively few changes and problems were reported in the first day of recounting.

Sutton remained optimistic even though Emmer lost some ground.

“There still are a lot of votes to be counted, especially in areas where we see some problems,” he said.

Republicans claim there may be voting irregularities in larger counties such as Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis.

The odds are against Emmer. No Minnesota recount ever has overcome a deficit as large as he faces after the Nov. 2 election.

Dayton’s recount chief was happy.

“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of monkey business going on,” Ken Martin said, adding that the recount was going “remarkably smoothly.”

Dayton sent nearly 2,000 people to recounting sites; Emmer fielded 600. About 100 volunteers and staff members manned the Dayton state headquarters, while a dozen were in the Republican Party offices working for Emmer.

Election officials sorted ballots, placing them in piles for Emmer, Dayton and other candidates. The two campaigns may challenge decisions about who the voter wanted, in which case the State Canvassing Board may decide voters’ intent when it meets next month.

Most of the challenges were determined to be frivolous by election officials, and they were included in the overall count the secretary of state’s office released Monday night. However, 281 Emmer challenges and 86 by Dayton were not frivolous and who gets those votes will be determined by the state board.

Counties have until Dec. 7 to finish their work. The State Canvassing Board is to begin a round of meetings the next day to examine ballots where questions remain. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie set a goal of the board determining the winner by Dec. 14, but the loser could take the election to court in a lengthy process.

A new governor is to be sworn in on Jan. 3.

Forum Communications Co. newspapers from across Minnesota contributed

to this story. Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.