Recount on a ballot issue? Maybe not

When it comes to the ballot measures, any concern about the accuracy of the tally would have to be addressed by the courts.

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Minnesota Supreme Court justices listen to arguments over the voter ID ballot question.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Minnesota has set a new post-election pattern: Every two years we have a statewide recount.

That's meant weeks of sorting through ballots and waiting and waiting for final results.

"We are very experienced and very prepared," said Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

But the state may break that pattern this year.

According to polling, the closest statewide contest is over the constitutional amendment to define marriage and ban same-sex marriage. But state law is clear: There is no automatic recount in referendums on constitutional amendment questions.

Even if the marriage amendment or the amendment to require voters to present ID in future elections is within a whisker of passage or failure once the ballots are tallies, that will not mandate a second look.

Instead, any concern about the accuracy of the tally would have to be addressed by the courts. One side or the other, backed by a voter, would have to convince the state Supreme Court that the results certified by election officials were erroneous.

The court, in theory, could order a recount of ballots. But that would be a starkly different process than Minnesota saw in the automatic recounts after the 2008 U.S. Senate race and the 2010 governor's race.

Adding to the potentially new look: Constitutional amendments actually fail on a tied vote. That's because to pass, an amendment must receive "yes" votes from a majority of those voting in an election, not just those voting on the amendment, essentially requiring support from 50 percent plus one voters.

That requirement means that on Election Day, officials will estimate the drop-off -- those who didn't vote on the ballot questions and therefore are counted as "no" votes -- based on how many people voted in the presidential race. A few people may skip the presidential race and vote in other contests and then skip the ballot question, so those election-night numbers may shift a bit as officials sort that out.

Minnesota could see a more-familiar situation if the results of the nationally watched Eighth Congressional District contest are close. Polling on the fight between freshman Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack and Democratic challenger Rick Nolan in the northern district has been all over the map.

If the results of that multimillion-dollar match-up are within one half of 1 percent, a recount would ensue.

"We're prepared for every possible eventuality," said Ben Golnik, a consultant to the Cravaack campaign. Golnik may be particularly well prepared. He worked in Ramsey County on U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman's team in 2008 and worked within the Republican Party managing 2010 gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer's recount.

Back in 2000, a Minnesota congressional recount took until mid-December to complete.

Even if this year's tight Eighth District race doesn't prove equally tight after Election Day, never fear, recount-junkies: A recount is likely in the future. "We always have one dozen to two dozen small ones," said Ritchie.

  • Party with partisans

    Presidential partisans will have one more chance to rally with their ilk. Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan will speak to Republicans Sunday afternoon at Sun Country Airlines at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on 2005 Cargo Rd. Doors open at 1:30 p.m.; the program starts about two hours later. Meanwhile, former President Bill Clinton will be at St. Cloud State University on Sunday to support President Obama. The event is open to the public and no tickets are required; doors at the Atwood Center open at 6:45 p.m.

    The week ahead

    ELECTION DAY: Tuesday.

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