State Election Board Does A Ballot Balancing Act

Anderson, Ritchie

The Minnesota State Canvassing Board ordered a statewide recount in the governor’s race Monday while trying to balance campaigns’ rights to challenge local election decisions with limiting frivolous challenges.

It was no surprise that the board ordered a recount in the governor’s race, which Democrat Mark Dayton leads by 8,770 votes over Republican Tom Emmer. A recount of all 2.1 million ballots has been expected since shortly after the Nov. 2 election left the two major candidates within 0.5 percent of one another, the threshold for a mandatory recount.

Emmer could have told the board he was not interested in a recount, but in a Forum Communications interview last week said he wanted the recount process to play out.

Dayton this week said that he expects to maintain the lead and become governor on Jan. 3, but he would not proclaim victory. However, he said no recount has overturned such a large margin.

Most of the board’s four-hour meeting dealt with how to allow the Dayton and Emmer campaigns to challenge local election officials’ decisions without piling up frivolous challenges like occurred in the 2008 U.S. Senate recount.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said in the 2008 recount, between Norm Coleman and Al Franken, 5,600 challenges the campaigns made were frivolous. There was no doubt those ballots should be counted, he said.

Ritchie’s goal is to reduce that number this year.

When the recount begins in each county on Monday, Emmer and Dayton representatives will be at the tables with election officials. If an election official puts a ballot in one candidate’s pile, the other campaign has a right to challenge that decision.

Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson, one of five on the Canvassing Board, repeatedly said he wants to make sure the panel makes no mistake that could leave an opening for one of the candidates to take the recount in court. He admonished both sides to avoid frivolous challenges.

“All I want, honest to God, is to get this thing resolved so the people get the governor that they elected,” Anderson said. “I don’t want you guys to challenge this in court. I want to do it right.”

Former Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, representing Emmer, and Marc Elias, Dayton’s attorney who represented Franken two years ago, promised Anderson and others on the board that they would not engage in frivolous challenges.

That promise made, questions remain.

“Frivolousness is in the eye of the beholder,” Magnuson told reporters after the Monday meeting.

Much of the Canvassing Board’s time two years ago was spent on deciding whether a voter meant to pick Coleman or Franken. A common case was a mark just outside of the oval where the vote was supposed to be recorded.

However, the 2008 campaigns often challenged election officials’ decisions even when it was obvious who the voter intended to pick.

Magnuson sat on the Canvassing Board two years ago, before resigning from the high court.

The board unanimously rejected Magnuson’s plea to count voters’ signatures and compare that number to the ballots cast in an effort to make sure no ballots are counted if a voter had not signed in. The Minnesota Supreme Court turned down the same request Monday.

Republicans have said that they have stories indicating that more votes were counted that should have been.

The Emmer legal team has hinted that there could be a court case built on the board and court decisions. Emmer says the ballot reconciliation system used on election day violates state law.

“I think I have given you our best proposal to avoid problems later on,” Magnuson said.

Elias, Magnuson