Mower County wraps up recount in governor’s race

Published 9:20 am Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mower County has officially done its part in the gubernatorial recount.

Recount judges and representatives of both Mark Dayton and Tom Emmer poured over ballots for around five hours Monday, hand-counting more than 20,000 ballots to determine if machines tallied the votes correctly Nov. 2.

At the end of the day, Dayton picked up a total of 17 votes in Mower County, while Emmer’s campaign challenged four votes — only one of which was deemed a legitimate challenge.

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On Nov. 2, Dayton carried Mower County, receiving 2,333 more votes than Emmer.

If Emmer overcomes Dayton’s lead — a result most experts consider unlikely — the GOP would hold the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature. Emmer could also sue if the recount confirms Dayton as the winner.

Officials got through more than 947,000 ballots on the first day, from roughly 63 percent of precincts. Dayton picked up 20 votes over his Nov. 2 totals for those precincts, while Emmer shed four. Emmer also challenged three times as many ballots as Dayton, not counting those challenges deemed “frivolous.”

“‘Frivolous’ challenges are new this year, and so did we anticipate that this might create a little hiccup? Sure,” Hennepin County elections manager Rachel Smith said.

Near the end of a day in which Smith expected some 65,000 votes to be counted, Smith said partisans challenged 20 ballots on what election officials considered legitimate grounds. More than 150 challenges were deemed frivolous, all but a handful from Emmer’s side.

Emmer attorney Tony Trimble disputed that the challenges were frivolous.

“‘Frivolous’ is a very subjective term, and so if the challenger thinks something should be challenged, even if others think it’s frivolous, the state canvassing board can make the determination, not a table judge, no one else,” he said.

Challenges matter because they can temporarily keep votes out of candidate columns, distorting the numbers as the process moves along. In 2008, most of the challenges were either withdrawn later or overruled by the state canvassing board.

The disputed ballots carried questionable marks or goofy write-ins that challengers construed as potentially identifying the voter — a no-no under Minnesota law.

Challenges that remain will be decided next week by the five-member state canvassing board.

If all goes as planned, every ballot will have had a second look by Dec. 7, and stacks of disputed ballots will have been sent to St. Paul for the canvassing board to rule on. A winner could be certified by Dec. 14, although litigation could follow.

Dayton and Emmer have both created transition teams to build their administrations. The next governor is supposed to take office Jan. 3, but there’s a chance departing GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty could be pressed into longer service if the race isn’t resolved by then.

The Associated Press contributed to this report