Minnesota's gubernatorial recount heads into its second stage

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December 6, 2010

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

SAINT PAUL, Minnesota:One week of arduously recounting ballots by hand is finished and the contest to become Minnesota's next Governor has moved on to sorting through the "challenges" - political jargon for ballots that a representative of either Democrat Mark Dayton or Republican Tom Emmer requested be set aside for special attention and then potentially rejected.

Such a move can be perilous, as successfully challenging a bllot means it is not counted, leading to charges that citizens are being disenfranchised after the fact. To cut down on spurious challenges, or "frivolous" as is the proper term, the observer who cahllenged a ballot must given an articulated reason for the challenge and sign off on the request, making it impossible to have anonymous challenges. Additionally, the army of lawyers on both sides are legally bound not to support any frivolous challenges.

It was Emmer, the GOP candidate, who finished behind in the initial balloting. However, Minnesota's Constitution gave him a second chance, thanks to a requirement for an automatic recount when the margin is under 0.5%. The state's board of cavassers met on November 23, 2010 to certify results of the November 2nd election and ordered the recount based on numbers that showed Dayton ahead by less than 9,000 votes, or 0.42%. The process of recounting the entire state's ballot began days later, on the 29th of November.

Over the course of the week long recount, Emmer's observers challenged far more ballots than did staff for Dayton. And they saw far more of their challenges deemed frivolous. At the end of the actualy recounting, more than 2,800 challenges coming from Republicans had been set aside, compared to 35 for Demcorats. Dayton and his supporters withdrew their challenges on all 35 of those ballots. On Emmer's side, 2,579 challenges were ultimately withdrawn.[1]

It now appears that when the state canvassers reconvene of Wednesday to go over challenged ballots, they will have less than 1,000 to opinion on. Added to the fact that Dayton actually narrowly increased his lead during the recount, it becomes almost impossible to see a scenario where Emmer could take the lead.

At this point, Emmer's victories are symbolic. On Friday, his attorneys successfully bargained to withdrew challenges that had been deemed frivolous so long as they were first allowed to review the ballots in question.[2][3] At this point, such a move is running up the cost of the recount, or setting the stage for a legal challenge from the Republicans.

The canvassers are expected to make a final certification of results on or before December 14, 2010. But the losing candidate is still legally entitled to bring a court case challenging even that result. Speaking at a press conference last Friday, Tom Emmer said he is "not currently planning an election contest." However, that is not the same thing as a categorical statement that he will accept the board's December 14th decisison, something Emmer has declined to make.

Adressing a group of delegates to the Minnesota Republican Party's central committee, he announced, "We're not going away," a promise that will be tested very soon.