Counties, GOP near agreement on election data

From John Myers, Duluth News Tribune:

 Tensions are easing as lawyers for St. Louis County and Minnesota Republicans work toward an amicable settlement to the party’s lawsuit demanding fast access to election data.

Both sides said Monday that a resolution was at hand without any legal proceedings.

Republicans filed a lawsuit against St. Louis and Pine counties Friday for failing to quickly hand over copies of election data in the race for governor between DFLer Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer.

“We’re talking with their attorneys and I think we may be able to work things out,” said Barb Russ, assistant St. Louis County attorney. “We’re trying to get them the information we have as soon as possible, except for the things we legally have to wait on. But we have limited staff to work on this.”

Republican Attorney Tony Trimble said the atmosphere is “calming down.”

“I think we are going to be happy that they (St. Louis and Pine counties) are going to provide everything on a timely basis,” Trimble said Monday afternoon.

Dayton holds an 8,755-vote lead over Emmer, who is entitled to a state-funded hand recount of all 2.1 million ballots.

The day after the election, the Republican-Emmer team began asking counties for information ranging from copies of absentee ballot applications to reports of incidents at polling places.

Suits were filed Friday against the two counties, Trimble said, because Republicans had not heard back from Pine County and received a St. Louis County letter saying that information would come in two weeks, which Trimble said was too long.

But St. Louis County Auditor Don Dicklich said Monday that most of the election data that Republicans sued to get copies of is available and open to the public. If they wanted immediate access, Dicklich said, party representatives would have to go to the courthouse in Duluth to see it.

Dicklich said it will take time to retrieve and copy all the raw data requested by the Republicans. That includes the paper receipt tape from electronic voting machines, absentee ballot applications and rejections, hand-counted ballot tallies, the names of election judges in each precinct and any reports of Election Day incidents.

Data requested by Republicans but not yet available includes voting rosters — the catalogs of voters in each precinct that voters sign before casting ballots — and same-day registration lists.

“By law, we have to enter those into the statewide registration system before we make them public,” Dicklich said. State law gives the county until Dec. 14 to complete that process.

Republicans, bracing for a possible legal challenge after a recount in the governor’s election, have asked counties for a potpourri of election information, including revisions made to election results, names of election judges, the number of accepted and rejected absentee ballots with reasons for the ones rejected, copies of voter registration applications, absentee ballot applications and more.

St. Louis County vowed to have all the requested information to Republicans by Nov. 24. But the Republicans asked for the information within five days and then, on Friday, sued St. Louis and Pine counties when the information wasn’t provided. Their legal brief says the campaign needs the information to assess whether all valid votes were counted and the underlying tabulations are accurate.

Meanwhile, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has sent Republicans a letter with nearly the same explanation as St. Louis County’s, saying the county has some of the information available but that it could be six weeks until voter registration information is posted with the state and is legally available.

Republicans have not sued Hennepin County.

Republicans also have asked for any correspondence between county election officials and the campaign of DFLer Mark Dayton.

“So far all we have from them (Dayton’s campaign) is a request to give them anything we give Emmer,” Dicklich said.

The Minnesota secretary of state’s office announced Monday that all counties will start the recount effort on Nov. 29. The recount phase is scheduled to end Dec. 14, but Emmer and the state GOP haven’t ruled out a court challenge after that even if Dayton maintains his lead.

Dayton attorney David Lillehaug has criticized the wide-ranging data requests and said Emmer’s lawyers have “embarked on one of the biggest legal fishing expeditions in Minnesota history.”

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