Recount to begin in Minnesota governor's raceElection officials are keeping the 47-day slog through the ballots in Minnesota's 2008 U.S. Senate race in mind as they prepare for their second statewide recount in as many years, but they're optimistic the recount that starts Monday in the governor's race between Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer will go more quickly.
By: Steve Karnowski, Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Election officials are keeping the 47-day slog through the ballots in Minnesota's 2008 U.S. Senate race in mind as they prepare for their second statewide recount in as many years, but they're optimistic the recount that starts Monday in the governor's race between Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer will go more quickly.
Not only do they have the experience of the protracted Al-Franken-Norm Coleman squeaker under their belts, they now have the law on their side. In the wake of the 2008 race, which took six months for the courts to settle, the state changed some election rules to avert the myriad challenges that dragged out the process.
That's why officials like Patty O'Connor, the elections chief in Blue Earth County, are confident things will go more smoothly this time.
"I think everybody understands the need for it to go quickly," O'Connor said. "We need to get it done. We need to put this election to bed as quickly as we can. So I'm hopeful."
In 2008, she recalled, it seemed like both sides tried to challenge as many ballots as possible, and challenges by one campaign led to tit-for-tat counterchallenges. O'Connor doesn't expect a repeat thanks to new rules that make it harder to challenge ballots over stray pen marks and ovals that aren't completely filled in. Other changes established a more uniform process for accepting or rejecting absentee ballots, which was the other big headache in 2008.
The official total certified by the State Canvassing Board on Tuesday gave Dayton an 8,770-vote lead over Emmer. That's within the half-percentage point margin that makes a hand recount automatic under state law, although Emmer would still need to gain a huge amount of ground on Dayton with no clear source for picking up additional votes. Franken trailed Coleman by 215 votes going into the 2008 recount but emerged with a 312-vote lead.
At courthouses and city halls across Minnesota, election workers will open the boxes holding ballots Monday and sort them into piles for Dayton, Franken and other candidates as observers from both sides keep watch. Ballots in dispute will be set aside for counting later.
Local election officials must finish the recount by Dec. 7. The canvassing board reconvenes the next day and is expected to certify a winner by Dec. 14, well before the Jan. 3 inauguration. The swearing-in could be delayed, however, if either side challenges the recount results in court.
A lawsuit dragged out the process last time, and Minnesota's Senate seat sat empty until Franken was eventually sworn in in July of 2009. If the governor's race isn't settled by Jan. 3, it's possible that Gov. Tim Pawlenty could remain in office until all the matter is resolved.
Local elections officials agreed the experience they gained in 2008 puts them in a stronger position to avoid problems this time.
"We have a better idea of what to expect and how to prepare," said. Dave Walz, the elections director in Stearns County.
Olmsted County elections administrator Pam Fuller said she's told her people to prepare for a long day Monday, but she expects they'll be able to finish their work in one day. Several larger counties are expected to take longer, although it will help that there will be about 800,000 fewer ballots to count this time.
Both sides have been recruiting and training volunteers and lawyers to keep watch during the process.
Eric Magnuson, Emmer's lead lawyer, said his team has given its observers careful instructions about challenging ballots.
"If we make a challenge just to make a challenge, in the end it doesn't do you any good," Magnuson said, adding, "What we're trying to do is make sure the law is followed. If we get the votes as a result of it, that's good."
Dayton's recount team has 2,500 volunteers "ready to go bright and early Monday morning," his spokeswoman Denise Cardinal said.
Checks already done by local officials haven't changed the numbers much, and Dayton's team is confident his lead will stand, she said.
"It's never happened in U.S. history that a lead even close to this (has been reversed by a recount)," Cardinal said. "Most of the times, the leads only change hands when there are a couple hundred votes in play, and obviously, we have much more than that."
AP reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this story from St. Paul.