Recount Day 2: Emmer camp steps up ballot challenges

Challenged ballot
A challenged ballot from the election recount in Ramsey County on November 29, 2010.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

With nearly 70 percent of ballots recounted in Minnesota's governor's race, there has been little change in the Election Night result that showed Democrat Mark Dayton with a of more than 8,700 votes.

Republican Tom Emmer's team stepped up its ballot challenges, now calling nearly 600 votes into question, more than four times the number of challenges by Dayton's team.

In fact, Emmer's team has made 68 times as many challenges as Dayton's team in Hennepin County alone.

While Dayton's lead over Emmer shrank by 37 votes, many of Emmer's challenges have been declared frivolous by local elections officials.

Over the course of two days, Hennepin County Elections Manager Rachel Smith said Republican Tom Emmer's campaign challenged 927 Hennepin County ballots. Nearly 900 of those ballot challenges were deemed frivolous by elections officials.

"Basically, in some ways we'd like to have an explanation as to why they're being challenged," Smith said.

Smith says the number of ballot challenges by the Emmer campaign has been accelerating and she's hoping they slow down. The Emmer campaign challenged 103 ballots in a precinct in the Dinkytown neighborhood in Minneapolis. In another precinct, Emmer's campaign challenged 45 ballots, even though the ballots are clear votes for Dayton, she said.

"The declaration was that there was not clear voter intent on all of them and I can certainly show you that this is the governor's race and there's clearly a blackened oval," she said.

Dayton's side challenged 25 ballots during the recount -- 13 of which were deemed frivolous, Smith said.

The number of ballot challenges is important because every one of the ballots could make its way to the five-member State Canvassing Board for review. The more ballots reviewed by the board means the longer it will take to determine who won the race for governor.

Ramsey recount
Election recount officials and observers examine a challenged ballot at Ramsey County's Plato Building in St. Paul, Minn., on November 29, 2010.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

Under the rules of the recount, frivolously challenged ballots are counted for the candidate elections officials believe received the vote. The ballots are then set aside for possible review by the canvassing board.

Smith also complained that the frivolous challenges are taking time away from the actual process of counting votes in her county.

Reporters can't view every challenged ballot in Hennepin County but those within view appear to be clear votes for Dayton.

In this Minneapolis precinct, nine Emmer challenges were considered frivolous. The ballots appeared to be clear votes for Dayton. On each of those ballots, the elections worker had to document the precinct where the ballot was cast and the reason for the challenge on a sticker and then paste it to the ballot.

Smith said she asked Emmer's attorneys to withdraw or waive some of their challenges, but the campaign refused. Emmer attorney Tony Trimble didn't shy away when asked about the campaign's tactic.

"Our strategy is to challenge ballots and challenge as many as we can if -- in the eye of the challenger -- there's a question about the voter intent, pure and simple," he said. "So if there's more today than yesterday, that's a coincidence. Tomorrow there may be more tomorrow than today even."

Joe Mansky
Elections manager Joe Mansky (center) showed a challenged ballot to recount officials and observers at Ramsey County's Plato Building in St. Paul, Minn., on November 29, 2010. The ballot included the phrases "greedy pigs" and "devil's work" rather than the names of write-in candidates.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

The Emmer campaign is also asking the State Canvassing Board to review all of the ballots challenged by the campaigns - whether they are considered legitimate challenges or frivolous ones. The board is responsible for determining which candidate the voter intended to choose.

In his letter to the board, Emmer campaign attorney Eric Magnuson asked the board to require local elections officials to make copies of each challenged ballot so the campaign can review them.

Mark Dayton's recount director Ken Martin said Emmer's team is mounting frivolous challenges with the hopes of delaying the outcome of the race.

"If there's legitimate challenges, each side has the right to challenge that, but we don't want to see challenges that are nonexistent," he said. "Some of the frivolous challenges that were released to us yesterday were really absurd and beyond frivolous. They are, unfortunately, wasting people's time."

Martin also said Dayton has raised more than $1 million to help pay for the recount. A spokesman for Emmer declined to disclose his fundraising figures but said the campaign is raising what's necessary to conduct the recount.

While Dayton has staff monitoring the recount, he is in Washington, D.C. to attend the Democratic Governors Association's Winter Meetings.

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