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The Minnesota gubernatorial election recount of 1962

An unusually close election in 1962 led to a recount in the race between Gov. Elmer L. Andersen and his challenger, Lt. Gov. Karl F. Rolvaag.

Gov. Elmer L. Andersen and his challenger Lt. Gov. Karl F. Rolvaag
Gov. Elmer L. Andersen and Lt. Gov. Karl F. Rolvaag
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Gov. Elmer L. Andersen, a member of the Independent-Republican Party, had been elected to the state’s highest office in 1960, at a time when the governor and the lieutenant governor were elected separately. That year, Karl Rolvaag, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), was also elected to his statewide post. Two years later, Rolvaag sought to unseat Andersen.

In the weeks leading up to the election, public-opinion polls showed the governor with a small lead over his challenger.

Most observers were expecting a close race, but no one predicted that the contest would end in a virtual tie on Election Day, Nov. 6.

Andersen recalled in his autobiography, “A Man’s Reach,” that as the returns came in the race became “a seesaw affair,” with first one candidate leading and then the other.

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In the early days after the election, the seesawing returns were strictly unofficial. The official returns would come later, when local canvassing boards met to certify the election results in their counties. The county groups, in turn, forwarded their reports to the State Canvassing Board, which declared the winners in statewide races.

The five-member state board, made up of three Republicans and two DFLers, met in late November. The board had been expected to settle the Rolvaag-Andersen contest. Instead, it only muddied the waters by failing to agree on a course of action. The unsettled election, now the focus of competing legal briefs, was kicked up to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

After a quick review of the briefs, the court ordered the Canvassing Board to accept amended returns from 10 counties that had filed affidavits stating that their initial election reports were incorrect. The Canvassing Board did as it was told, and on Nov. 29 it declared Andersen the victor by 142 votes.

That action, however, prompted Rolvaag to file a motion in state district court on Dec. 3 seeking a recount. Once again the Supreme Court intervened, forming a three-judge panel to oversee the new vote count. The recount began on Dec. 19 at the state’s county courthouses. Three-person teams at each site began the painstaking task of reviewing each of the 800,000 paper ballots cast on Nov. 6.

Earlier, the state’s 500,000 machine ballots had been rechecked by the county canvassing boards, so those ballots were not counted again under the new court-directed recount.

For the hand count, each team included an I-R, a DFLer, and a neutral observer. The partisan members of each team had the right to challenge a ballot if they believed the opposing party had improperly tallied it. “Progress was painstakingly slow,” Andersen recalled.

The hand counts continued through the end of December and into January. During this time, 97,000 ballots were challenged. Eventually, through a series of screenings, this number was reduced to 3,851.

In February, the recount moved back into the courts for a trial before the three-judge panel. Eventually, the difference between the two candidates came down to ninety-one votes, with Rolvaag in the lead.

A new legislative session began while the recount continued. Andersen remained in office while his DFL opponent inched ahead in the vote count. “From mid-February on,” he remembered, “I was carrying on with an awareness that I likely would not be in office to see the session through to its end … I was bracing myself for an unhappy ending.”

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That ending came in March. The three-judge panel confirmed Rolvaag’s ninety-one-vote lead on March 15, and on March 21 it ordered that Rolvaag be named governor. Two days later, Andersen announced he was waiving his right to appeal the panel’s decision.

On March 25, 1963, 139 days after the Nov. 6 election, Karl Rolvaag was sworn in as Minnesota’s thirty-first governor.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.