In the just-started recount of the Minnesota gubernatorial race, Republican Tom Emmer's team's ballot challenges are mounting, but the elections manager in Hennepin County says most are frivolous.
Elections officials kicked off a statewide hand recount of 2.1 million ballots this morning. After the Nov. 2 election, Dayton leads Emmer by nearly 8,800 votes, which is within the margin that triggers an automatic recount.
Dayton spokesman Ken Martin said based on numbers compiled by Dayton volunteers, the Democrat has gained about 37 votes over Emmer.
In Hennepin County as 5 p.m., Elections Manager Rachel Smith said approximately 170 ballots had been challenged, with about 150 of the challenges deemed frivolous -- 95 percent of those by the Emmer side.
Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky said roughly 30 ballots were challenged through 1 p.m. He said elections officials examined roughly 20,000 ballots today.
A lot of the challenges in Ramsey County centered around identifying marks. Some of the ballots appeared to have stray marks. One Emmer campaign-challenged ballot was ruled a vote for Democrat Mark Dayton but the voter appeared to question one of the other candidates on the ballot by writing "who?" next to it.
"We asked our people to make valid challenges, but we also asked them to be very aggressive because you only get one bite at the apple," said Republican Party chair Tony Sutton.
He said the Republican Party held 14 training sessions for vote challengers around the state. He said Emmer's observers should follow one simple guideline, "When in doubt, challenge."
After elections officials finished a precinct, Mansky would examine each challenge and ask the campaigns why they were making the challenge. Sometimes Emmer attorney Michael Toner would withdraw a challenge after discussing it with Mansky.
Under the rules adopted by the State Canvassing Board, the ballots deemed to be frivolously challenged will be added to the count for the candidate local elections officials say they are for. The ballots will then be set aside for possible consideration by the canvassing board.
HENNEPIN COUNTY HICCUPS
Republican attorney Tony Trimble said in two Hennepin County precincts, more ballots have been found than were originally counted. He said in one precinct, 21 more ballots were counted today than during the first count. In another precinct, nine more ballots were counted today than were previously. After investigating, elections manager Smith said in fact there was just one additional vote found in one of the precincts in question.
Also in Hennepin County, a dispute over the sorting of challenges deemed frivolous sent the candidates' attorneys and top election officials into a closed-door meeting about 10 a.m.
Trimble said some of Emmer's observers reported that those challenges weren't being put in a separate pile and might be getting mixed in with candidate totals.
County elections manager Rachel Smith said a handful of precincts had to be counted again because they hadn't separated the frivolous challenges properly. Smith said she expected some hiccups because of the legal change this year that allowed officials to dub some challenges as frivolous.
A SERIOUS JOB
In Ramsey County, 10 recount teams are set up at tables in one large office building. Mansky said he hopes to count roughly 40,000 ballots a day, and hopes to finish the county's recount by Friday afternoon.
"This is the Dayton/Emmer recount," Mansky told an audience of 65 people before the recount started. "If you're not here for that, you're in the wrong place."
While Mansky started off with a joke, the job of the elections officials is quite serious. They have the task of going through each and every ballot to determine whether it's a vote for Emmer, a vote for Dayton or a vote for another candidate.
They're doing that under the careful eyes of campaign volunteers for both Dayton and Emmer. Those volunteers can challenge the decision by an elections worker. Any challenges will be sent directly to the State Canvassing Board, which will make the final call.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie had hoped to streamline the process by allowing Mansky and other elections officials to determine if any such challenges are frivolous. But Mansky told the audience he won't do that.
"My preference is to let them see every challenged ballot, so if you challenge them I'm not going to challenge you," Mansky told the group. "I will send over anything you want them to take a look at. That's OK with me."
Attorneys for Republican Tom Emmer have been asking the five-member State Canvassing Board to rule on every challenged ballot -- even those deemed frivolous by the local election judges. They say the final determination should be left to the State Canvassing Board, not the elections officials in each of the state's 87 counties.
The Canvassing Board told elections officials to set aside ballots deemed frivolous, but include them in the count for Dayton or Emmer. Canvassing Board members will decide at a later time whether they want to review those ballots.
While volunteers and attorneys are front and center in the recount, the two candidates will keep a low profile. The campaign spokespeople for Dayton and Emmer say the candidates will not make any public appearances today.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)