FAQ: What would a gubernatorial recount look like?

Minnesota may be heading into another statewide election recount, the third in two election cycles. Republican Tom Emmer and Democrat Mark Dayton are separated by a little more than 9,000 votes, which is just barely inside the automatic recount margin of 10,300.

Below, we try to answer as many questions as we can about what a recount in the governor's race would look like.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Voting officials will make routine adjustments and corrections to their totals in coming days. In past elections, they have been handfuls of votes. Republican Party officials say that in others, like the 2006 U.S. Senate race between DFLer Amy Klobuchar and Republican Mark Kennedy, there were nearly 20,000 votes changed, although the race wasn't close enough to matter. Eventually those corrected totals will be certified by local canvassing boards and forwarded on to the state.

Minnesota's canvassing board will pool the results and total an initial result. If the difference between the two leading candidates is less than half of one percent, an automatic recount will be triggered, paid for by the state like it was for the U.S. Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken in 2008. If the difference is beyond that threshold, the candidates or parties themselves will have to initiate a recount, with a special lawsuit called an election contest.

In the meantime, Republican Party officials say they are sending letters to elections officials across the state, telling them that they intend to send ballot watchers to keep an eye on the voted ballots during the recount - either the ballots themselves, or the secure access to those ballots. Attorney Tony Trimble said the party will post a guard around the clock if they think it necessary.

HOW DOES THE RECOUNT PROCESS WORK?

After the results are certified, an order will go out to all the official vote counters in Minnesota -- the auditors for 87 counties. The counties will hand count their ballots, and that's where the real battle will begin. In 2008, people sat in folding chairs hunched over ballots to try and decipher what all the scribbling and stray marks meant.

There were also fights about the eligibility of absentee voters, some of whom didn't follow the law when they filled in their ballots. That turned out to be one of the turning points in the process, as the partisans out in the field battled over which ballots were in and which were out.

HOW LONG DOES THE PROCESS TAKE?

It depends. In 2008, the hand recount itself took seven weeks, and it cut into Republican Norm Coleman's 215-vote lead.

A week before Christmas, the State Supreme Court ruled that a select group of disputed ballots -- absentee ballots that had been mistakenly rejected -- should be reviewed by the state Canvassing Board. Franken gained 1,056 votes in that process, more than half of them in the usually DFL Hennepin and Ramsey counties and up in the Duluth area.

The new Congress convened on Jan. 5, and Al Franken said he'd won. That was officially the end of the recount.

SO WE'LL HAVE THIS RESOLVED BY JANUARY FOR SURE?

Not necessarily. The losing candidate could choose to go to court after that to challenge the results.

In 2008, that's what Coleman did. With the control of the state government in the balance, we can expect either side will exercise all their legal options.

In the Coleman-Franken case, the lawsuit went to a three-judge panel that decided which of the mistakenly rejected ballots could be counted. In April, 351 rejected ballots were counted and added to the total, which gave Franken a 312-vote win.

That count then went to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which heard arguments on June 1. They issued a ruling at the end of the month and declared Franken the winner unanimously.

WOULD EVERYTHING BE THE SAME IN THE CASE OF A RECOUNT IN THE GOVERNOR'S RACE?

Legally, the process should look much the same. But there have been some key changes in the last two years.

First, election officials have instituted better training, and the state also enacted a law that all absentee ballots be counted at a central local location, likely by long-time election workers. That could at least make the decisions about absentee ballots more consistent. Some of the other problems with the 2008 election have also been cleared up by the Legislature since the Senate recount.

In response to 2008 battles over so-called frivolous ballot challenges, the state legislature updated 1800's era laws about stray marks and identifying marks on ballots. Now for a ballot to be disqualified because of so-called identifying marks, those marks actually need to be someone's printed name or signature.

And finally, the other thing that might have changed is the voters. They have better instructions on how to vote both in person and absentee, and voters are more aware of how important the actual voting process is and how it may impact their vote.

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