Governor's recount - and recounting the challenges

As the recount began, the challenges from Emmer stacked up, but the totals still favor Dayton.

As the tense recount of the Minnesota governor's race began Monday, Republican Tom Emmer's representatives quickly racked up challenges to the official count.

A blank ballot was claimed by Emmer representatives as a vote for their candidate. In some Hennepin County precincts, Republicans challenged every third or fourth ballot, according to county elections manager Rachel Smith.

By day's end, more than 400 ballots were challenged, with the vast majority coming from Emmer's side. County officials declared half of those challenges "frivolous," meaning they remain in the current count but could get another look.

According to a final tally released by secretary of state Monday night, taking challenged votes out of the count did little to change the overall vote margin. Dayton picked up 20 votes while Emmer lost four.

Dayton now leads Emmer 43.6 percent to 43.2 percent -- a margin of 8,794 votes. Those numbers represent only a snapshot, since more than half of the state's ballots have yet to be recounted. Before the recount began, Dayton led Emmer by 8,770 votes.

Emmer attorney Tony Trimble said although some local officials deemed many of their challenges "frivolous," their representatives simply had "better eyesight" than officials.

"Our challengers did a very good job of inspecting" the ballots, Trimble said. "Frivolous is in the eye of the beholder."

Ken Martin, Dayton's recount manager, said their lead meant they did not need to strenuously question officials' calls.

"We are not in the same position as Tom Emmer," Martin said. "We don't need to go out and challenge every ballot."

'Slowing us down'

In many locations, Emmer representatives questioned ballots in which voters failed to completely black out the oval next to the DFLer's name or who missed the oval but blacked out a space next to it. One challenge was issued on a Dayton ballot with "Who Farted" written in for Ramsey County sheriff.

At one point, Joe Manksy, Ramsey County elections manager, and Emmer campaign observer Michael Toner closely studied a ballot in which a small black dot was the only indication that the voter intended to cast the ballot for Dayton. The oval next to Dayton's name was not completely filled in. "How have you handled that in the past?" Toner asked. "We've counted them as votes," replied Mansky. "I'd like to keep that on the challenged [pile]," said Toner.

Washington County election director Kevin Corbid said he was concerned that Emmer representatives were challenging ballots lacking a vote for either candidate and said he hoped they would rethink their strategy.

"Those challenges are unnecessary and are slowing us down," Corbid said.

Emmer representatives challenged 422 ballots out of Renville County's 6,000 ballots.

"As soon as they saw any writing any place, any mark, they challenged it," said Renville auditor Larry Jacobs. Those 422 challenges were deemed frivolous.

Although election and campaign officials described the day's first count as professionally managed, some glitches occurred.

In several Hennepin County precincts, there were a few more votes than the Election Day count showed. In some Eagan precincts, officials couldn't quite reconcile the number of paper votes with the number that machines said were cast on election night.

"We have some that are off by one, some that are off by two," said Kevin Boyle, a Dakota County elections official.

Those vote mismatches sent election officials scrambling to recount their ballots and allowed Emmer officials to repeat their claim that some ballots should be removed from the count until the numbers match. Last week, the state Supreme Court rejected that Emmer claim.

'Smooth as silk'

Counties have until Dec. 7 to finish counting their ballots, but by the time they clocked out on Monday, more than 20 small rural counties had completed their counts and moved on.

Wilkin County was first over the finish line. Brenda Conzemius, the county recount official, admitted she was a bit proud of her team. Officials there recounted 2,458 ballots in the governor's race by 10:15 am.

"Everything was smooth as silk," Conzemius said.

She said a representative from Dayton's campaign watched the counting at the Breckenridge courthouse, but no one from Emmer's campaign showed up. There were no challenges in Wilkin, and the vote total stayed exactly where it was before the recount.

Lincoln County finished up a half an hour after Wilkin.

Washington County officials polished off with more than a third of the county's votes Monday and plan to finish by Wednesday. Dakota and St. Louis county officials hope to finish by Thursday. In Hennepin County, the state's largest county, officials may count through the weekend to get done on time.

Next week, a state board will examine the challenged ballots.

Star Tribune staff writers Pat Doyle, Katie Humphrey, Bill McAuliffe and Kevin Giles contributed to this report. Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • rachel.stassen-berger@startribune.com Mike Kaszuba • mike.kaszuba@startribune.com

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