Security and emotion high on the road to recount

1:01 AM, Nov 7, 2010   |    comments
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Tom Emmer and Mark Dayton

MINNEAPOLIS -- Elections workers across Minnesota headed down the road toward a recount Friday, launching the post-election canvass of Tuesday's returns.  It's a routine audit of machine totals and voting rosters, but the circumstances are anything but routine.

In the race for governor Democrat Mark Dayton leads Republican rival Tom Emmer by 8,781 votes, or roughly one-half of one percent of the 2.1 million total. That margin will most likely be enough to trigger an automatic recount under Minnesota law, but that is still considered an unofficial tally until canvassing ends Nov. 12.

All 470,000 ballots cast in Hennepin County on Election Day are being shipped under police guard to the county government center for safekeeping. In the past canvasses and recounts were done in various city elections offices, but County Auditor Jill Alverson those city officials agreed with her that a centralized approach would be best.

"We're really striving for security, transparency, uniformity, and accessibility," Alverson told reporters at a news conference Friday afternoon, "We want to assure the public the ballots are secure."

She said the ballots would be locked in a room under 24-hour video surveillance and watched by an armed deputy sheriff. Only a select few staff with electronic key cards would have access to the ballots, and they would be required to sign an entry log.

The canvassing process, which began statewide Friday, is designed to recheck the machine totals and see if vote totals in each precinct correspond with the number of people who signed voter registration rosters or registered in person.

"The election judges are comparing at that point the number of signatures on the roster plus the election day registration cards," Hennepin County elections director Rachel Smith explained, "Add those two numbers together, and that should equal the total number of ballots."

The enhanced security is a response to some chain of custody issues during the recount of the 2008 senate election between Norm Coleman and Al Franken. That year election workers lost track of a packet containing 133 ballots from a southeast Minneapolis precinct.

During the ensuing legal battle the campaigns battled over whether the ballots ever existed and whether the machine count for that block of votes could be substituted for the paper ballots which are legally required for a hand recount in Minnesota.

Public Relations war

At the State Capitol Friday the new DFL minority leaders referred to Dayton as "governor-elect" while speaking to reporters.

"The people have spoken on the governor's race," Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D - Cook, said, "8,900 votes is a lot of votes."

Rep. Paul Thissen, D - Minneapolis, the newly minted House Minority Leader echoed that.

"Nine thousand votes is very different from 200 or 300 votes," Thissen said, "It seems clear to the membership, at least our members, that Senator Dayton is going to be the governor and he should become the governor as soon as possible."

Dayton, appearing on the Twin Cities Public Television program "Almanac" Friday night, said he was very concerned about speculation that Republicans would intentionally prolong the recount to keep Gov. Tim Pawlenty in office longer.

"Some of the things I've read so far, 'Well we'll just drag this out and we'll undermine the legitimacy of my administration before it starts. Keep Governor Pawlenty in office to work with a Republican legislature,' I mean, that's just unthinkable!" Dayton told co-hosts Eric Eskola and Cathy Wurzer.

Emmer himself stayed out of the fray on Friday. A Canadian newspaper snapped photos of Emmer attending son Tripp's junior league hockey game in Neepawa, Manitoba.

Timeline for Recount

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie Friday laid out the following proposed timeline for the recount:

  • Nov. 23 - State Canvassing Board meets to review official results of county canvassing.
  • Nov. 29 - Hand recount begins in county elections offices, with challenges by campaigns
  • Dec. 8, 9 & 10 - State Canvassing Board reviews challenged ballots
  • Dec. 14 - State Canvassing Board certifies final results

Challenges are attempts by campaigns to disqualify ballots because the voter's intent is unclear, based on how the oval was filled.  The canvassing board will make final rulings on those ambiguous ballots.

A vote can also be challenged if the voter writes his or her name or some other "identifying mark" on the ballot, which would nullify the vote. That rule dates to an era when people were paid to vote and told to mark their ballots as proof to the corrupt vote counters.

One change in law that will significantly cut the number of challenges is that "frivolous challenges" are no longer allowed. For example, stray marks and names written inside the write-in slots can no longer be used as a basis to challenge a ballot.

Campaigns can still challenge ballots if a name is written outside of the write-in slot, leaving it to the state canvassing board to judge whether that's really the voter's name or just a joke or a message.

Ritchie still in crosshairs

Also on Friday the Republican Party of Minnesota rekindled its attacks on the Secretary of State, accusing Ritchie of showing bias before the recount's even underway.  Party officials were unhappy that Ritchie, in his personal Twitter account, re-tweeted messages by journalists saying the odds are against Emmer.

Some of the tweets he re-tweeted had links to online newspaper articles, pointing out most cases of lead changes in recounts involve closer margins, rivals separated by hundreds of votes rather than thousands.

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R - Big Lake, who served two terms as Secretary of State herself before being unseated by Ritchie, said he should avoid the appearance of bias.  She suggested he hire a Republican staff attorney, just as she had a Democrat attorney on her staff.

"If this is the kind of judgment you have, in just the first few days, as a referee of a recount election process."

Ritchie will be one of five referees, as a member of the State Canvassing Board. The other four members will be Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justices Paul H. Anderson and David R. Stras; Assistant Chief Judge Denise Reilly of Hennepin County and District Judge Gregg E. Johnson of Ramsey County.

In the 2008 canvassing board process Ritchie deferred to the judgment of the other four members in most cases, and later earned praise from then-Chief Justice Eric Magnuson for his fairness and care in the process.

(Copyright 2010 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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