Emmer observers make more ballot challenges

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

The first day of the governor's race recount went off pretty much without a hitch today as hundreds of election officials got down to the task of hand counting more than 2.1 million ballots.

In Hennepin County -- the state's largest county -- the lower level of the government center was bustling with activity even before the first ballot boxes were opened.

Representatives from Democrat Mark Dayton's side and their counterparts from Republican Tom Emmer's side had small armies of volunteers to watch the counting and object to anything that concerned them.

A young woman from the Dayton camp gave some final instructions to her volunteers.

"Our job is just to make sure we get as many Dayton votes and the Emmer side, their job is to make sure they get as many Emmer votes here," she said.

The ballot counting took place at 25 counting stations at the Hennepin County Government Center.

Table by table, three election judges first sorted and then counted, precinct by precinct.

The campaign volunteers closely watched over each table in pairs.

Also watching were attorneys with the campaigns. David Lillehaug from the Dayton side said it appeared experience from the 2008 Senate recount was paying off in 2010 gubernatorial recount.

"I suppose because the local officials have been through this drill before and there was a good recount plan in place from the Secretary of State's office," he said. "So far things seem to be going smoothly."

So-called frivolous ballot challenges from Republicans and Democrats were a big problem during the 2008 recount. Lillehaug predicted new rules, along with clarity about what makes a ballot invalid, would result in fewer challenges this time.

Tony Trimble
Tony Trimble, a lawyer for Republican Tom Emmer, raises questions about a ballot during the statewide election recount at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on November 29, 2010.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

That was the case on the Dayton side. At 5 p.m. Hennepin County Elections Manager Rachel Smith said that of the 150 challenges deemed frivolous, the Emmer side accounted for approximately 95 percent of the frivolous challenges.

"We've seen an increased number of challenges coming from the Emmer campaign over ballots that have no reason for challenges. We're not sure what the challenge is based on," Smith said.

Emmer campaign attorney Tony Trimble took issue with the notion that the head of recount in Hennepin County was accusing his side of frivolous ballot challenges.

"No, Rachel would never accuse. She's not like that. Rachel's much nicer than that," he said.

Sorting ballots
Linda Howden, right, and Cathy Marshall, second from right, sort ballots while representatives from the Tom Emmer and Mark Dayton campaigns observe 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

Trimble defended his side's approach.

"We have citizens here from all walks of life doing their best to determine whether or not a vote is definite or whether it's indefinite and that's their job," he said.

It wasn't just Hennepin County where the Emmer campaign was challenging ballots.

In Renville County alone, Emmer's team challenged 423 ballots out of roughly 6,000 ballots cast. Renville County Auditor Larry Jacobs says he determined all but one of the challenges by an Emmer representative was frivolous.

"She was instructed that they would challenge any ballot with writing on it. And I said to her 'Well, all of these local races and anybody with a write-in has writing on it.' And she just told me that that's what she was instructed to do and that's what she will do."

Jacobs said Dayton's campaign didn't challenge any ballots in Renville County. State Republican Party chair Tony Sutton says Emmer's side is being aggressive as it challenges ballots because it wants to ensure that only legitimate ballots are counted.

The Dayton camp said of all the ballots that were challenged on the first day of the recount, nearly all were challenged by the Emmer side and that local election officials ruled nearly all of those frivolous.

During an afternoon news conference, Dayton spokesman Ken Martin said his side was not objecting to much because with a nearly 9,000 vote lead, it doesn't need to.

"Our message is look, 2010 is not 2008. We have a 8,770-vote margin," Martin said. "We're not in the same position as Tom Emmer. We don't need to go out and challenge every ballot."

Under new rules counties will count ballots they determine frivolously challenged for the candidate local officials think received the vote. Those ballots are set aside for possible consideration by the State Canvassing Board.

Ballots local officials believe are legitimately challenged are not counted and automatically go to the board for a ruling.

Local officials must have their ballots hand tallied by next Tuesday. The State Canvassing Board hopes to certify the results of the recount on December 14th.

(MPR News reporter Tom Scheck contributed to this report.)

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.