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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 says Fritz Knaak, one of Sen. Norm Coleman’s lawyers during the long-running 2008 U.S.

“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.