Emmer's camp steps up ballot challenges on day 2 of recount

Reviewing ballots
John Hill Jr. goes through ballots at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on Monday, Nov. 29, 2010, as part of the statewide recount for the gubernatorial election.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

The recount in the governor's race entered its second day today, and in some places local election officials found increasing objections to their ballot calls from Republican Tom Emmer's side. Democrat Mark Dayton's camp says it's happy with the recount progress, and that Dayton is widening his lead.

There are more ballots to count in Hennepin County than anywhere else in Minnesota, and officials said the recount was moving more quickly Tuesday than on the first day.

But Hennepin County Elections Manager Rachel Smith said that ballot challenges were up sharply from Monday.

"It certainly does delay getting through a precinct, because each of those ballots still has to be stickered and labeled and marked and gone through," she said. "It does take us some additional time, but we're managing that to the best we possibly can."

Smith said almost all of the frivolous challenges are coming from Republican Tom Emmer's side, not Democrat Mark Dayton's. Smith said Emmer observers' objections have a fallen into a predictable pattern.

"Anything either not completely filled in -- so the oval isn't completely blackened -- or the oval is outside, or the coloring or the marking is outside of the oval," she said.

The people who are watching ballots for Republican Tom Emmer declined to talk about their job.

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

Dave Hoden of Maple Grove was observing for Dayton, and said the scene is getting more intense.

"Today seems to be a little more aggressive on the count that I was on, on a Minneapolis precinct. I had, I think, nine challenges at our table," he said.

Hoden says almost all of the challenges he's seen haven't even been close to legitimate, as far as he's concerned. He says it appears the two sides have very different ideas about what to object to.

"Almost everyone of them they listed as an identifying mark, like a little squiggle or something around the area where they had filled in the Dayton oval," said Hoden. "I would have said they were all frivolous."

Hoden said while there is intensity at counting tables, it's nothing close to the level of the 2008 U.S. Senate recount, at which he also volunteered to observe for the Democrats. He said volunteers for the two campaigns seem to be getting along well, and he had high praise for the patience and diligence of the local election judges.

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

Hennepin County Elections Manager Rachel Smith said there have been cases where her staff has had to clarify what election observers can and cannot do.

Emmer attorney Tony Trimble has been stationed at Hennepin County since the recount began, and has been defending the calls his volunteers are making. Trimble acknowledged more challenges are being made, but he insisted it's a function of how today's batch of ballots happened to be filled out.

"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," said Trimble. "So if there's more today than yesterday, that's a coincidence. There may be more tomorrow than today."

The Dayton side claims that 97 percent of all "frivolous" ballot challenges are coming from the Emmer campaign. Dayton recount spokesman Ken Martin said despite all of the challenges, his side is pleased with the recount.

"There's been no major problems seen. There's been very minor fluctuations seen in the vote totals, and in fact what we're seeing in this recount now is that Mark Dayton's gaining votes," said Martin. "IAgain, this is a very steep mountain for Tom Emmer to climb, and it's becoming more steep by the day."

In a possible sign he expects to win the recount, Mark Dayton left Minnesota Tuesday to attend a meeting of the Democratic Governors Association in Washington D.C.

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