Frivolous ballots in the spotlight

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

As the hand recount continues in the Minnesota governor's race, the State Canvassing Board plans to meet Friday afternoon to talk about thousands of ballot challenges local officials have determined to be frivolous.

More than 2.1 million ballots are being recounted by hand to determine the winner of the Nov. 2 election between Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer. Dayton is leading the race by nearly 8,800 votes, but a mandatory recount is taking place because of the narrow margin of his victory.

Prior to Friday's meeting, the Secretary of State's office is expected to announce the number of ballot challenges local officials across the state have labeled frivolous. Those officials have said the vast majority of frivolous challenges have come from Republican Tom Emmer's side. The Secretary of State's office has been counting the ballots that have been frivolously challenged for the candidate local officials believe won the vote.

According to the Dayton campaign, there were more than 2,500 frivolous challenges through Wednesday. There have been about 850 other ballots challenged, where local officials generally believe a legitimate case can be made that the intent of the voter is unclear.

But even if you add that 850 to the 2,500 frivolous challenges, you don't get enough votes to overcome Mark Dayton's pre-recount lead of nearly 8,800 votes.

Emmer recount attorney Tony Trimble, who's been watching the Hennepin County recount from the start, said he thought by the time the recount is over there would be enough challenges to potentially make a difference in the outcome of the election.

But even though Trimble has been defending his side's ballot challenges, he acknowledges some of them probably should not have been made and will be withdrawn.

"Remember this is not a clinical process folks, this is a political process. There's obviously partisanship involved on both sides," Trimble said. There's going to be some of that gamesmanship around. It's just as a campaign is a political process. This is an extension of that."

Trimble declined to say how he thought the State Canvassing Board should deal with the ballots local officials say were frivolously challenged.

So did Dayton spokesman Ken Martin. But Martin accused the Emmer side of disregarding rules against frivolous challenges.

"We were going to enter this recount phase itself and make sure that we weren't challenging legitimate ballots for the sake of challenging ballots, and that's what's occurred," said Martin. "Our side has been very diligent, very respectful of this process. We've challenged ballots, sure, but at the end of the day we've challenged ballots where we thought there was a problem. It doesn't appear that that's the same case on the other side."

Hennepin County election officials have said frivolous ballot challenges by Emmer's team are slowing down the recount but they said they were pleased with their progress so far. They still expect counting there would go into the weekend.

For the second time in two days, Hennepin County officials asked the Emmer side to approve adding more counting tables to speed up the process. The Emmer side again said no.

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