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Both parties in Minnesota preparing for the possibility of — yes — a recount

Given the state’s recent history, both the GOP and DFL are keeping a close eye on several races — and lawyering up.

After “losing,” the most dreaded word in any Minnesota political operative’s vocabulary is probably “recount.”

Yet given the the state’s recent history of close elections, the Republican and DFL parties are, not surprisingly, preparing for the possibility. “We always prepare for the worst case scenario,” said DFL party chair Ken Martin. 

The state saw that scenario in 2008, of course, when it took eighth months to validate Al Franken’s 312-vote victory in the U.S. Senate race with Norm Coleman. It saw it again in 2010, when Mark Dayton’s nine thousand-vote lead over Republican candidate for governor Tom Emmer forced a recount and prompted the infamous “we’re not going to get rolled again,” outburst from then-GOP chair Tony Sutton. 

Neither party is expecting a landslide next Tuesday, and both have identified (but will not name) Washington D.C. law firms that will work with local attorneys in the case of a recount possibility.

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According to a senior Republican party official, Republicans are focusing on the races you’d expect them to focus on: the Franken-Mike McFadden U.S. Senate race, the Dayton-Jeff Johnson governor’s race, the congressional races in the Seventh and Eighth Districts, and races that will determine the leadership of the House in the Minnesota Legislature.

“The National Republican Congressional Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, a Washington, D.C., law firm will all be consulted and play a role and decide,” the official said.  “There’s so much at stake with the Senate up for grabs that all of the Washington groups are watching this very closely.” 

Martin declined to go into which races the DFL expects to be close.

The scrutiny of the process has already started. Republicans say it’s now standard operating procedure to engage poll watchers on the lookout for voting irregularities and to have attorneys at the ready.

The DFL is on the same page, with an “election protection program” they run each election cycle that includes “lawyers cataloging any anomalies leading up to and on Election Day which may impact the outcome,” Martin said.

The state requires an automatic, publicly financed recount in races that are decided by less than one-quarter of one percentage point of the vote. But the parties pay for the lawyers that monitor recount activities. And it’s not cheap. In 2010, Dayton established a special fund to pay the $750,00 in legal fees from the gubernatorial election recount. 

The Republicans footed the bill for Emmer’s legal expenses, also in the $700,000 range, though former GOP chair Sutton tried to keep the debt off the party’s books by establishing a separate account. The state campaign finance board ruled that the fees had to be considered party obligation, and the fees helped put the GOP nearly two million dollars in the hole, a debt that the party is still paying off today.