Emmer attorney says no thought to waiving recount

Tom Emmer
State. Rep. Tom Emmer talks about the Minnesota governor's race in interview with Associated Press reporters Wednesday Oct. 13, 2010 in Minneapolis.

Republican Tom Emmer plans to see a recount through, despite trailing Democrat Mark Dayton by almost 8,750 votes in the undeclared race for Minnesota governor, Emmer's attorney said Monday.

Asked whether any thought was being given to waiving the manual ballot-by-ballot review, Emmer attorney Tony Trimble answered bluntly, "None whatsoever."

Trimble spoke to reporters after Hennepin County - Minnesota's largest - certified its vote totals. Emmer picked up six votes from his election night tally after a suburban precinct rechecked its numbers. The county makes up one-fifth of the statewide vote.

While the Hennepin County board met, Emmer had a private 45-minute discussion with outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his top staff about the possible handover between administrations.

Emmer hasn't appeared in public since the night of the election.

Dayton has his own meeting with Pawlenty on Tuesday.

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Unless Dayton's lead grows beyond a half of one percentage point - roughly 10,500 votes - the recount will proceed at public expense. While the recount is deemed automatic, state law includes a waiver provision for the trailing candidate.

County auditor signs vote certification
Hennepin County Auditor Jill Alverson signs the election abstract prepared by Hennepin County elections manager Rachel Smith, right, while County Commissioner Jeff Johnson looks on.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

A schedule calls for the recount of 2.1 million ballots to conclude by mid-December, but there's a possibility of litigation known as an election contest. Such a lawsuit could extend the race for weeks or months, meaning Pawlenty would have to stay on beyond the normal expiration of his term.

All counties are required to submit verified election results to the Secretary of State within 10 days of the general election. The state canvassing board meets to certify statewide results Nov. 23.

The Hennepin County canvassing board also heard more about the computer filing error that briefly double-counted tens of thousands of votes across the county on Election Might.

Elections manager Rachel Smith told the canvassing board her staff immediately realized the error and tried to take the numbers back.

"By the time we had a fix to pull the results down, we had already known how to fix the problem," Smith said.

Republican Party attorney Tony Trimble said there is a simple way to put Republicans' suspicions about the error to rest.

"At this point, I reserve comment. Obviously the hand count of the recount will tell us whether we're satisfied or not," said Trimble. "And that's what we look to do."

Trimble also noted that the six-vote correction followed a telling pattern.

"There have been shifts going on, as the counties across the state are reviewing their numbers. Uniquely, the net gain every day has been to the Emmer campaign," said Trimble. "So there's been about a 6.5 percent reduction of the deficit ... the very first three days of this effort. So we feel confident that we're moving forward."

DFL attorney David Lillehaug, however, noted how small the change was in Hennepin County -- just over one-thousandth of 1 percent. The correction would be the equivalent of a 27-vote change statewide, far short of what it would take to close the current 8,800 ballot gap.

Lillehaug said he was confident the results were honest.

"The motion to approve the results was made by Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who is a Republican and a lawyer," said Lillehaug. "I think that indicates that any fair, nonpartisan and bipartisan review of the results will show that Mark Dayton got more votes."

Meanwhile, the state Republican Party, which is coordinating Emmer's recount efforts, announced that a prominent strategist would lead the team. Ben Golnik is a former party executive director, who ran presidential candidate John McCain's campaign in the state in 2008. Golnik also oversaw the GOP's state Senate election effort this fall, in which the party took control of the chamber for the first time in almost four decades.

The recount is limited to a review of ballots. Republican allegations of voter fraud or other irregularities would have to be held over for an election contest.

Separate allegations have come up in recent days -- that voters improperly vouched for other voters at some precincts in Minneapolis. That could have allowed ineligible voters to mark ballots.

Hennepin County Attorney spokesman Santo Cruz said prosecutors got information on the matter from Minneapolis elections officials and were looking into it. Falsely vouching for another voter is a felony.

But because the actual ballots are secret and anonymous, improperly cast votes can't be separated from the rest, and can't be removed from the totals.