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GOP chair: 'We're going to put the heat on'

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Some players in the eight-month-long 2008 Senate recount are saying the likely gubernatorial recount should go more quickly, but hopes of keeping partisanship out of the process seem dim.

Republicans have made it clear they intend to approach this recount very differently from the last one they lost. The morning after the election, State GOP Chairman Tony Sutton questioned the validity of the results and the integrity of the Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who oversees elections. 

Republicans vow to fight on
State party chair Tony Trimble vowed Republicans "won't get rolled again" in a recount of the 2010 gubernatorial election. He was referring to the 2008 U.S. Senate election that incumbent Norm Coleman lost by a razor-thin margin after an 8-month recount. Sutton was joined by deputy party chair Michael Brodkorb, at left, and attorney Tony Trimble, at right.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Some have accused Sutton of being too aggressive, but even after another night's sleep Sutton is not backing down. 

"Absolutely I stand by all of it," Sutton said.

Sutton, 43, started in Republican politics door knocking for Ronald Regan in the mid 1980s. He's held a variety of position in the state party over the years and became chair last summer. 

Sutton said it's his job to put pressure on election officials at a time like this, and even called Ritchie an ACORN activist.

"We have a right to be skeptical," Sutton said. "If you were sitting in my seat, you'd probably be skeptical of this and so we're going to put the heat on to make sure the process is followed fairly by the law and that we can have confidence in this system." 

"If you were sitting in my seat, you'd probably be skeptical of this and so we're going to put the heat on."

Ritchie has said that if a mandatory recount needs to be done, hand counting the ballots should go faster and more smoothly than it did in 2008. Ritchie said law and procedure changes should dramatically reduce frivolous ballot challenges and a new system for counting absentee ballots should have cut down on Election Day mistakes.

Still, some local election officials are bracing for an unpleasant recount. Chisago County Auditor Dennis Freed said the early tone of Republicans has him concerned. 

Already, Freed said he's working to meet requests for election documents like the results tape. The adding machine-type paper prints out precinct totals and now has to be photocopied to comply with recount-related document requests.

Freed said if a recount proceeds, mistakes will come to light. But he said they will be the result of human error not any deliberate effort to undermine the system. Freed said statements to the contrary are offensive to people in his line of work. 

Norm Coleman's lead attorney Fritz Knaak
Norm Coleman's lead attorney Fritz Knaak.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

"To me, it is just because I feel we conduct ourselves with integrity and everything ... but I mean I guess that's what has to happen," Freed said.

Attorney Fritz Knaak was on republican Norm Coleman's side of the 2008 recount. Knaak said he disagrees with Sutton's contention that Republicans got "rolled" that time. Still, Knaak defended Sutton's rhetoric. 

"He has to keep the troops focused and I think he's starting that process by making some of the comments that he made so I don't fault him," Knaak said.

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Attorney Marc Elias was the lead attorney for Democrat Al Franken's successful recount effort in 2008. When Elias heard the news that Minnesota was very likely headed for another statewide recount, he said he chuckled to himself and thought, what have the people of Minnesota done to deserve two recounts in a row?

On the telephone from his Washington D.C. office, Elias said the 2010 situation is dramatically different than 2008 because now, unofficial results show several thousand votes, not several hundred, separate the two candidates. 

"There's a wide margin here and certainly the law provides a candidate a right to a recount, but given the margin here it seems extremely unlikely that you would have a change of results," Elias said.

Nearly 9,000 votes separate the two candidates, according to unofficial results from the secretary of state's office. 

But Sutton prefers to look at the difference as less than one half of one percent. He said such a tight margin could be overturned in a thorough recount.