Recount Day 1: Dayton gains 20 votes, Emmer down 4

Christina Tvedten
Christina Tvedten goes though a pile of ballots during the statewide recount at Ramsey County's Plato Building in St. Paul, Minn., on November 29, 2010.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

After the first day of the recount in Minnesota's statewide governor's race, Democrat Mark Dayton picked up 24 votes over Republican Tom Emmer compared to Election Night tallies, the Secretary of State's office reported.

On the first day of the recount, Emmer's representatives challenged 281 ballots -- more than three times as many as Dayton's team challenges.

Emmer has to pick up nearly 8,800 votes to overtake Dayton's lead, and Emmer's team will likely have to ramp up their challenges even more if they hope to catch up.

In Ramsey County, election officials counted 39,000 ballots on the first day of the recount.

As elections officials counted the votes for Dayton and Emmer, campaign representatives for both candidates peered over their shoulders.

At the end of the count in each precinct, workers would count the votes for each candidate and then go over the ballots challenged by each candidate. Luke Leadbetter then gave the challenged ballots to Ramsey County Manager Joe Mansky.

"We have no challenges by the Dayton campaign. We only have challenges from the Emmer campaign," Manksy said.

Stacked ballots
A stack of ballots waits to be examined, sorted and counted in the St. Louis County Boardroom in Duluth, Minn. during a recount for the Minnesota governor's race on Monday, Nov. 29, 2010.
MPR Photo/Derek Montgomery

Mansky would go through the challenged ballots with attorneys for the campaigns. In some instances, an attorney would withdraw the challenge. In other cases, they'd keep the challenges in place.

Through the first day of the recount, Emmer's team challenged 48 ballots in Ramsey County -- Dayton's team challenged seven. Statewide, Emmer's representatives challenged a total of 281 ballots, and Dayton's team challenged 86.

Mansky said Emmer is challenging more ballots, but he says it's far fewer than the 2008 U.S. Senate recount, where a few hundred votes separated Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.

"Two years ago, we had something like 550 total challenges countywide so at this rate, we're going to come in quite a bit less than that," he said.

Recount kickoff
Elections officials kicked off a statewide hand recount of 2.1 million ballots in the basement of the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on Monday, Nov. 29, 2010.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

Mansky told the campaigns that he would not deem any of their challenges frivolous, saying it was up to the five member State Canvassing Board to ultimately determine voter intent. But other county elections officials did rule some challenges out of order, using a new rule created as a result of the 2008 recount.

Hennepin County Elections Manager Rachel Smith says about 20 challenges made on Monday in Hennepin County had merit. She said there were about 150 frivolous challenges -- 95 percent of which came from Emmer's team.

Emmer's campaign was even more aggressive in Renville County, challenging 423 ballots in a county that cast roughly 6,000 ballots on Election Day. Renville County Auditor Larry Jacobs said he considered all but one of the Emmer challenges frivolous. He said an Emmer attorney told him she was instructed to challenge any ballot that had writing on it.

"We have a lot of local races on our ballots so on the backside, if there was someone written in for a write-in candidate position, which there is many times for city council or for school [boards], that person challenged that," he said.

Jacobs said Dayton's campaign didn't challenge a single ballot in Renville County.

Examining a ballot
Nick Long, a recount observer for Democrat Mark Dayton, examines a ballot as part of the statewide recount for the gubernatorial election on Monday, Nov. 29, 2010.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

Minnesota Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton said the Emmer team is working to ensure that each vote for Emmer is counted and the questionable votes for Dayton are called into question.

"We ask our people to make valid challenges but we also ask them to be very aggressive because you only get one bite of the apple," he said. "You only get to look at these votes once and once they're done completing counting a precinct you don't get another chance. So when in doubt, challenge."

Mark Dayton's recount director Ken Martin said his campaign is being judicious with their challenges. He said part of the reason is that Dayton is leading by what is considered to be a "wide margin" by recount standards.

"We're not in the same position as Tom Emmer. We don't need to go out and challenge every ballot," he said.

The Emmer campaign has called on the Canvassing Board to review each challenged ballot. The board is asking elections officials to set aside the so-called frivolous challenges for possible review.

The Secretary of State's office will report the total number of frivolous challenges later this week.

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