Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Governor’s race recount: Steep hills for GOP, and Canvassing Board curiosities

“Nine thousand [votes] is a mighty steep hill to climb, and I think the Emmer folks know it.”

So said Fritz Knaak on MPR Thursday morning. Knaak was once one of Sen. Norm Coleman’s lawyers during the 2008 U.S. Senate recount.

But how steep of a hill?

Consider these factoids:

• We know that Al Franken trailed Coleman by 215 votes before the recount started two years ago. Franken wound up winning the recount — before wrongly rejected absentee ballots were counted — by 49 votes.

• Add in all the absentees, including those garnered at trial — and Franken won by 312.

• That means there was a pickup of 527 votes. Far short of the 8,775 that Emmer now trails.

Fritz Knaak
MinnPost/Jay Weiner
Fritz Knaak

Way back in 1962, the Elmer L. Andersen-Karl Rolvaag recount began with Rolvaag ahead by 58 votes. After some previously rejected ballots were allowed to come into the count, Andersen was ahead by 142. After the recount, Rolvaag won by 91. You can see where this is all headed.

In the Christine Gregoire-Dino Rossi recount for Washington State governor in 2004 (and into ’05), Gregoire trailed in the initial count by 261 votes. After the hand recount, she won by 125, a pickup of 386.

The infamous so-called “Bloody Eighth” House race recount in Indiana in 1984 started with Rick McIntyre leading by 34 votes after the initial tally. But after a recount and lots of legal fancy footwork, incumbent Frank McCloskey won by four votes. That was a swing of 38.

Setting aside clerical errors — which occur — Emmer would have to pick up more than 100 votes in every county in the state.

A steep hill indeed.

The curious case of the Canvassing Board
The five-person panel that will get the county results on Nov. 23 includes two election law experts — Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson and Hennepin County District Court Judge Denise Reilly — and respected Ramsey County Judge Gregg Johnson and the newest member of the Minnesota Supreme Court, David Stras.

The first three were appointed by Republican Gov. Arne Carlson. Stras was named by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is the fifth member. It’s all by law: two Supremes, two district judges and the SOS.

But there were some curious musical chairs that occurred in the makeup of the board, and we asked about them.

In August, for the primary election certification, the Canvassing Board included newly elevated Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea and Washington County District Court Judge Susan Miles; Gildea was appointed by Pawlenty, and Miles was elected to an open seat in 1996 and not appointed.

The way the Canvassing Boards are selected is quite simple. Weeks before an election, a staffer in the Secretary of State’s Office calls the Supreme Court and asks the Chief Justice to offer two names.

Meanwhile, a call generally goes to Ramsey County for names; it’s the “local” county for state government and, so, most convenient. But the district court judges need not come from Ramsey.

For the primary board, Gildea picked herself — as her predecessor, Eric Magnuson, selected himself in 2008 — and Stras.

Meanwhile, instead of Ramsey, the call went out to Washington County, and there was Miles. All pretty simple. That primary election canvassing board last summer completed its work in a grand total of six minutes.

So, when it was announced Wednesday that Justice Paul Anderson was replacing Gildea, some DFL types got into some conspiratorial thinking, the way that some Republican types had conspiracy theories on the makeup of the 2008 Canvassing Board.

If you remember back then, oh those two years ago, Chief Justice Magnuson and Justice G. Barry Anderson were named to the Canvassing Board. GOPers lamented then that by placing Magnuson and G. Barry on the board, Ritchie — he of the devious, left-wing, vegetarian, George Soros-dominated mind — purposely blocked two of the conservative wing of the State Supreme Court from sitting on any potential legal proceedings involving the recount.

Because they were on the board, they wouldn’t be able to hear any appeals from the board. That would take two sure Coleman-leaners off the High Court bench. That Ritchie sure is smart.

Such a conspiracy theory presumed that Ritchie “appoints” members of the Canvassing Board. He does not. He asks chief judges to send over names and he accepts whichever names they offer.

And it presumed that he knew weeks before November 2008 that there would be a contentious recount that would go to the Supreme Court a handful of times. The entire notion that he fixed the makeup of the board was hogwash.

Well, now that Gildea is no longer on the board, some Dems are wondering if the new chief justice purposely dropped off so that she could be involved in Supreme Court matters, if and when the Emmer-Dayton recount makes its way up the legal ladder.

The Dems mumble, “That’s the way Gildea is. She wants to be in on a big decision like this.”


Here’s what we know. Seems the chief justice told Ritchie’s staff weeks ago that she wouldn’t be available for the Nov. 23 meeting, according to Ritchie spokesman John Aiken. It wasn’t a decision she made in the wake of Tuesday’s close election.

Same with Judge Miles; that Tuesday, Nov. 23, is two days before Thanksgiving. Conflicts arise that week for lots of us.

Gildea declined comment through a court spokesman.

Again, no conspiracy, nothing Machiavellian.

Enter Justice Paul Anderson and Reilly. And what two Minnesota jurists can be better suited to oversee election details? Reilly was one of the three-judge panel in the Franken-Coleman election contest.

And Anderson, besides being very active in all the Supreme Court hearings on the 2008 recount, was former Gov. Carlson’s lawyer in 1990 when Carlson had to get his name on the ballot nine days before the election due to a scandal involving the endorsed Republican candidate, Jon Grunseth.

It’s all turned out fine. We’ve concluded there have been no shenanigans. To paraphrase that wordsmith and Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton, “Nothing smells wrong here.”

Case closed.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/05/2010 - 09:17 am.

    I’m almost certain that Secretary Ritchie had something to do with the Andersen/Rolvaag recount back in 1962. I mean come on folks, only 58 votes, ‘something doesn’t smell right here’.

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/05/2010 - 09:27 am.

    Obviously your nose just doesn’t have the very tender sensitivities that Tony Sutton’s does.

    Except, of course that he seems peculiarly immune to the smell of B.S., especially when he’s the one shoveling it.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/05/2010 - 09:34 am.

    Just about at this point of Senator* Franken’s Excellent Post-election Adventure, ballots began to be “found” all over the state….the vast majority of which turned out to be for Senator* Franken, natch.

    We were assured that “nothing smells wrong here”, this sort of thing happens all the time, so I’m waiting for news of “found” ballots to start rolling in.

    Also, when will the “fifth pile” of absentee ballots be defined?

  4. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 11/05/2010 - 10:00 am.

    Sutton knows they won’t win in the end; this is all about casting doubt and undermining legitimacy. Just like with Franken (see #3, above), just like with climate science… there’s some evidence they actually learned these clever tactics while trying to deny that cigarettes were bad for you. Seriously.

  5. Submitted by Christa Moseng on 11/05/2010 - 10:23 am.

    Gildea’s decision was not made with knowledge of the narrow outcome of the 2010 election, but nor was it made in ignorance of the Chief Justice’s position in the 2008 recount. I think it’s nothing but tea leaf reading to impute any motive, innocent or political, to her unavailability on November 23.

    As for some commenters’ radical skepticism about the 2008 recount, maybe someday we’ll find a cure for the memetic disease that has infected so many people, causing such utter failure of the portion of their brain that is responsible for empirical reasoning. You can’t get to stolen election valley without climbing a mountain of twelve unanimous judges.

  6. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/05/2010 - 10:27 am.

    Given that 60,000 votes were gained by Emmer because someone in Hennepin county clicked on the wrong button should tell us that type of operator error could have easily happened elsewhere.

    Remember, in this state the old saying that “it’s not so much who votes but who counts the votes” has never been truer.

  7. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/05/2010 - 10:39 am.

    Christopher, I just about blew coffee out of my nose while reading your comment. That is by far, one of the best lines ever. Your second paragraph has to he the new gold standard in respectful snark…

    //”You can’t get to stolen election valley without climbing a mountain of twelve unanimous judges.”//

  8. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/05/2010 - 11:43 am.

    And yet as some of us have already proven they’re more than willing to climb that mountain, no matter if it be higher than Everest.

    By the way, #6, any other reporting errors similar to Hennepin County’s election-night reporting (rather than counting) error, which was caught and corrected, I might add, will be discovered as part of the Canvassing process currently under way.

    If you’re going to comment on the outcome of the election, please go to the trouble of keeping up with what’s actually going on rather than just throwing spurious allegations at the wall to see if you can get something to stick.

    Informed trolls are at least more interesting to read than what we’ve been reading here, ignorantly questioning the yet-to-be determined outcome of this election, so far.

    (Besides, we all know it’s “weasel” news and Frank Luntz who will decide what the GOP’s talking points against Dayton’s completely-legitimate election will be).

    Sadly, just as was the case with Senator Al Franken, after Dayton wins in a recount, if necessary, some of our commentators and certainly the commentariat at the Republican Ministry of Propaganda will forever after declare this election to have been “stolen” by undiscoverable processes worked at the behest of nefarious forces.

  9. Submitted by Diane O'Brien on 11/05/2010 - 12:02 pm.

    Anybody think that Rep. Emmer will offer to save taxpayer dollars by conceding the election and sparing us all the expense of a recount?

  10. Submitted by Josh McCabe on 11/05/2010 - 12:15 pm.

    Mr. Swift:

    If Emmer actually won the most votes, and some sort of clerical or human error is found that changes the totals that much, I’m with you that he should be our next governor. I’m afraid I can’t agree that we may have a corrupt process simply because Mark Ritchie is a democrat. Do you think Joan Growe was corrupt as well, even though we had under her and continue to have some of the best voter turnout in the nation? Doesn’t that tell you anything at all? Just asking. Ritchie was elected fair and square, and re-elected, which I suppose you can question as well if you want to, but the Franken-Coleman recount process last time allowed a lot of time for a lot of lawyers and judges from both sides of the political spectrum to consider evidence and comment. Some of the highest-ranking republicans in the state (supreme court) agreed with the results of that recount. If we see another unanimous decision in this recount, will you live with it just as I will? Do you question the validity of our election process and supreme court that much? If the democrats are gerrymandering our statewide results, they seem to be pretty bad at it. Mightn’t they have won a few more elections this year if that were true? I mean, in for a penny, in for a pound. Why manipulate Hennepin County and not the iron range where it would be far easier and much more believable if democrats polled well? Why do you suspect that they somehow manipulated JUST the governors race and allowed themselves to be beaten pretty much everywhere else? You really make us me feel sad, Swift, with your endless complaints about the USA and Minnesota. I think we live in a great state in the greatest country in the world. I like our election system although it isn’t perfect and sometimes I don’t like the winners. Sheesh Swift, it’s one of the best systems in the country, and our country has one of the best systems in the world. Have a little faith in the wise and lasting way we’ve set things up to withstand the pendulum swinging as it does politically. Or do you think our state constitution is faulty here too? Actually, do you?

  11. Submitted by Phil Dech on 11/05/2010 - 12:17 pm.

    Regarding post #6, my understanding is that the official vote tally in Hennepin Co. was never off by 60,000. The number reported on their website was (temporarily) wrong.

  12. Submitted by Fritz Dahmus on 11/05/2010 - 12:50 pm.

    Emmer should concede. Gore shocked the republicans by not conceding in 2000…..and almost won. It seems ever since then, these elections take on a life of their own….because nobody concedes when they should. It used to be good politics.

    Emmer will not concede just to make Sec of State Ritchie look bad.

  13. Submitted by Brian Simon on 11/05/2010 - 12:59 pm.

    “The entire notion that he fixed the makeup of the board was hogwash.”

    It is best practice to precede lipstick application with a good hogwash.


Leave a Reply