Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton, Republican Tom Emmer and Gov. Tim Pawlenty are all preparing for a recount of the election that could spill into early next year.
Dayton leads Emmer by nearly 9,000 votes, a small enough margin to trigger an automatic recount. That means Pawlenty may spend some extra time in the governor's office until the issue is resolved.
Dayton spokeswoman said Ken Martin, a seasoned DFL political operative, will head up Dayton's recount team. She said Charles Nauen, an attorney who played a role in the recount of the 2008 U.S. Senate election, will lead Dayton's legal efforts.
Dayton's decision to organize a recount team is just another example that Minnesota should brace for a lengthy battle over who has the legal right to be Minnesota's next governor.
While Dayton's team is working on their recount efforts, Republican Party officials put out a call to local election officials asking for details from the election machine tapes. They are also asking GOP voters to let them know if they saw any irregularities at the polls on Election Day.
Both cases could signal that the GOP is working on their recount efforts and a more extensive legal challenge if the results don't go their way. Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton is confident that Emmer will be the next governor despite a large margin.
"We don't know. That's why there's a process," Sutton said. "That's why we're going through it. That's why the law is set that if it's less than a half a percent it's an automatic recount. Why? Because it's a very small percentage. With human error, machine error, there's always a possibility of votes not being tabulated correctly."
But while Sutton insists that his candidate could still be the winner, Fritz Knaak, a Republican attorney who worked in the 2008 U.S. Senate recount and may play a part in this recount, said it could be a tall task for Emmer. Knaak said Dayton's vote margin is much larger than the 721 votes that separated Republican Norm Coleman from Democrat Al Franken, the eventual winner, in 2008.
"I think 9,000 is a mighty steep hill to climb and I think the Emmer folks know it," Knaak said.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said local elections officials will start the process of certifying their results later this week. Ritchie is predicting that the recount will begin in late November and should wrap up sometime in December. He said there were several changes to election law to improve the state's recount process.
Any absentee ballot issues can only be addressed by a court in an election contest and not in the actual recount, he said.
Ritchie also said extraneous markings on a ballot can only be tossed out if it includes a person's name or an identifying number, such as a social security number. Another change to law allows local elections officials can also overrule any challenges that they consider frivolous when they recount is going on.
"We had one instance, I believe it was Sherburne County, where there were literally 802 challenges in one day," Ritchie said. "So this kind of abuse of the system is both frustrating and can potentially bog it done. But it's also disrespectful of what needs to be done. So giving the power to election officials is real important to make sure the process runs real smoothly."
Meanwhile, Pawlenty said he plans to hold private, separate meetings with both Emmer and Dayton next week. He also said he'll make his staff, particularly top budget officials, available to both candidates.
"Article 5, Section 2 of the Constitution requires the current governor to continue on if there's a vacancy like this until a vacancy can be filled," Pawlenty said. "I hope that doesn't become necessary. I genuinely hope it doesn't become necessary when the arise, as they arise, at that time."
Pawlenty said he is also prepared to stay on longer until the next governor is sworn in to handle duties as they pop up. He wouldn't say whether he would encourage Republicans in control of the legislature to send him bills that Dayton would oppose.
The governor said he didn't think his planned book tour, scheduled for early January, would interfere with any required duties.