“You can tell things are starting to get a little bit old hat for people,” Ken Martin was saying Monday afternoon.
He’s the DFL operative, veteran progressive-cause campaign organizer and, these days, Mark Dayton’s recount manager. Martin was as mellow as a ringmaster can be on the first day of a statewide recount circus, what with the governor’s office in the balance.
“Folks are starting to say, ‘Happy Recount Day,’ like it’s a holiday or something,” Martin told a gathering of reporters. “So Happy Recount Day to you.”
Yep, we do this pretty regularly in Minnesnowta, and for Martin and his guy, DFL governor candidate and presumptive victor Dayton, Day One of Minnesota’s Recount 2.0 was, indeed, happy and relatively free of dustups.
Oh, there were “a few hiccups,” said Martin, most notably in Hennepin County, the state’s most populous county and where Democrats roam. The scrums occurred first thing in the morning, with the TV cameras on and the theatrics of GOP lawyer Tony Trimble on display.
With Dayton’s pre-recount 8,770 lead, it makes perfect sense for Rep. Tom Emmer, the Republican candidate and Trimble’s client, to challenge as many ballots as he can, particularly in Dem-saturated Minneapolis and its environs.
But these early challenges were the height of what election folks call “frivolous,” and Hennepin County elections manager Rachel Smith, after a few minutes, told Trimble so.
“It’s been a contentious day,” Smith said later. “Exhausting.”
Mostly, Emmer reps were saying that an oval filled in for Dayton that had even an itsy bitsy amount colored in outside the oval was an “identifying mark,” and, so, not a valid ballot.
That’s not what the recount rules laid out by the secretary of state’s office say. An “identifying mark” has to be a signature or a number or a wrongly placed write-in name. But when voter intent is clear, to challenge it is to make a mockery of the recount. A tiny tail on an oval doesn’t count.
In the end, Smith and other Hennepin officials deemed about 150 Emmer challenges as frivolous, but we’re bound to see them in front of the State Canvassing Board when it meets next on Dec 8. Tuesday could get interesting at the Hennepin County Government Center, too, as a host of Minneapolis precincts are set to be recounted, ideal targets for the Emmer side.
There were also hundreds of challenges in Renville County, but only about 6,000 people voted for any gubernatorial candidate. Monday night it was learned the challenges had to do with write in votes for a local school board race there, and not the governor’s contest.
The Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota had scouts stationed around the state. CEIMN is hosting a blog reporting on how the recount is proceeding. And from the Iron Range to western Minnesota, challenges were few and the process is rolling along, these non-partisan volunteer observers reported.
Said Dayton recount leader Martin: “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of monkey business.”
Dayton and data
Here’s what was obvious in moving around and talking with folks: Once again, just as in the 2008 Al Franken-Norm Coleman recount, the DFL team is far more data-centric than the Republican squad.
Dayton’s operation allowed reporters and photographers a glimpse of their recount war room in the less-than-lavish East Side office building that was once Dayton campaign headquarters, but is now his Recount Central.
Rows of tables with rows of laptops were being stared at by rows of lawyers and operatives. Among the lawyerati monitoring the day’s doings included members of the Al Franken legal team, such as Franken trial chief Kevin Hamilton from Seattle, Dayton’s current legal major domo Charlie Nauen, aided by his partner – another Franken veteran – Bill Gengler. Franken’s recount operations chief Alana Peterson – now the senator’s state director – is running the recount field operation, and Dayton has also brought in data king Andy Bechhoefer, of Grassroots Solutions, who analyzed all the data in the 2008 recount that Franken won even before the absentee ballots were included. He’s good.
These are sample PDFs supplied to journalists by the Dayton campaign to show the frivolous nature of Emmer challenges in Hennepin County when the recount began Monday morning. They were all deemed “frivolous” by Hennepin County elections manager Rachel Smith. Some may move forward to the State Canvassing Board next week. Click on the graphic to download the PDF.
Indeed, with 168 volunteer lawyers in the field, Martin said, “We have the largest firm in the state at this point. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”
That commitment to lawyering and data meant that by 2:30 p.m. Monday, Martin and Nauen could hold a news conference and report – to the exact digit – where they stood on the recount. Dayton, they said, had picked up a net of 37 votes in the precincts counted over what was tallied on Election Night. (While the secretary of state’s website Monday night had Emmer “ahead” by about 50,000 votes, that includes less than 45 percent of the vote statewide, even though it comprises 55 of the 87 counties. The SOS site did confirm how few valid challenges Emmer’s side launched: 281, a far cry from the thousands that Franken and Coleman lobbed in 2008.) And not enough to make a dent into Dayton’s lead.
A visitor to three different recount sites Monday in three counties found Dayton operatives and volunteers diligently marking down the exact votes and exact number of challenges at each recount table.
But Emmer’s volunteers were not as fastidious. Emmer lawyer Tony Trimble acknowledged at the Hennepin County site that not all members of his army were keeping track of the “call at the table” by election judges. He said they were just recording the final count.
But the call by judges informs whether a challenge is strong enough to change a vote’s outcome. And, frankly, some Emmer volunteers neither had paper nor writing utensils to track anything. Strange …because they should have learned from Franken’s example in 2008.
For his part, Emmer issued a statement at the end of the day thanking all the volunteers and election officials who exercised “the ultimate show of civic engagement.” He added: “At the day’s conclusion, Minnesotans should be proud of the open and transparent recount process on display. Minnesota deserves election integrity. We are committed to ensuring the law is followed so voters will never have to question the value of their vote.”
Days remain in the recount. Hennepin County won’t be finished until next Monday. Martin said the Dayton team is “preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” on the question of whether Emmer will take this thing beyond the recount.
Said Martin: “We want there to be no doubt…that who ever is the next governor of this state is viewed as the legitimate governor. That means that we can’t short change this process during the next week to two weeks.”
So, to paraphrase Ken Martin, Happy Recount Month…