Here are 10 things to watch for and wonder about as the Mark Dayton-Tom Emmer statewide governor’s hand recount begins this morning at 9 a.m. in all 87 counties.
No. 1: Challenges
Dayton is now unofficially ahead by 8,770 votes. Recount history in the United States over the past 25 years shows that number is insurmountable.
So, how many ballots will the Emmer side challenge, claiming the election machines missed something?
And, given the discussion at the State Canvassing Board last week, how many of those challenges will prove be “frivolous”?
The more challenges there are, the more we’ll see if the Emmer side is up to some mysterious strategy that has yet to reveal itself.
There were more than 6,500 challenges in the 2008 U.S. Senate recount with 2.9 million votes. More than 5,500 wound up being off-the-mark, with 1,000 finding their way to the State Canvassing Board.
Watch for the number of challenges at 8 p.m. Monday night on the secretary of state’s web site.
No. 2: Then, go to the REAL scoreboard
Dayton’s recount team is going to keep track of “the call at the table.” This is the important — and more accurate — tally to watch. Experience shows it will be the “real scoreboard,” not the secretary of state’s website.
The Dayton side has announced it will post its count each morning after the day before. So, the campaign promises its exact tally beginning 9 a.m. Tuesday morning off of Monday’s first day of recounting.
As in 2008, the Dayton observers at the hundreds of recount tables statewide will keep record the number of ballots cast and counted for the candidates, the number of challenged ballots, the number of ballot challenges considered “frivolous” and — here’s the key — the call at the table by the election official for each ballot.
In 2008, the Al Franken recount team was the only one that monitored this “call at the table” by election officials.
In so doing, it knew which ballots were legitimately challenge-able and which challenges were bull. Because of that, Franken’s side knew it was picking up votes. No one else did.
What’s the significance of that? Read on . . .
No. 3: Watch the media’s behavior and reporting.
As Dayton lawyer Marc Elias pointed out last week — and throughout the Franken recount — separating out the challenges serves as an incentive to a candidate to deliberately (and even unjustifiably) challenge ballots.
It skews the daily public count. It creates a false perception of how the recount is proceeding.
If Emmer challenges many votes it will make it seem as if he is “gaining ground” on Dayton…if the news media cooperate with this counting standard.
For instance: assume there are 10 votes counted. The election judge at the table rules 7 for Dayton, 3 for Emmer. But Emmer’s team challenges four of those decisions for voter intent reasons based on marks on the ballot. It wants the State Canvassing Board to rule on these challenges later.
The vote is thus reported on the SOS site as Dayton 3, Emmer 3, four challenges. But we know from 2008 that the Canvassing Board backs up the “call at the table” on almost every occasion.
This year, as a result of legislation passed after the 2008 recount, “frivolous” challenges are considered no-nos. Still, because of a decision made by the Canvassing Board decision last week, those “frivolous” challenges will be separated out and get a second look by the board when they meet again.
What’s frivolous? Any challenge “based upon an alleged identifying mark other than a signature or an identification number written anywhere on the ballot or a name written on the ballot completely outside of the space for the name of a write-in candidate.” It’s a challenge in which the voter’s intent is clear, but the candidate wants to willy-nilly create a challenge and game the system.
But because Secretary of State Mark Ritchie felt it would be too burdensome on election officials statewide, his office isn’t going to tell us how many challenges were ruled frivolous until Thursday, four days after the recount begins.
In 2008, the news media reported the secretary of state’s tally on a regular basis. It didn’t factor in the way the Coleman team, in particular, made challenges to ballots that were clearly Franken votes.
It made it seem as if Coleman was maintaining his lead, which he wasn’t.
Eric Magnuson, one of Emmer’s lawyers, said last week: “If we make a challenge just to make a challenge, in the end it doesn’t do you any good.”
Watch the challenges and see if the former chief justice is true to his word. Furthermore: Hold mainstream media to the fire on what its results mean.
No. 4: Are there REALLY lots more votes than voters, and are they explainable?
This is Emmer and the Republican Party’s only substantive issue so far. Is there something fundamentally inaccurate with the voting system because some counties use voter receipts to count the number of voters and others use the sign-in rosters?
Does the recount reveal a massive amount of votes that don’t match up with voter rolls?
We think not. Almost every election official in the counties thinks not.
The Supreme Court, at least on the surface, thinks not. It denied Emmer’s petition to alter the recount to count all the signatures.
Still, is there enough of a problem to cause real public suspicion? If indeed there are more votes than voters, how many are there?
Enough to change an 8,770-vote gap? Or just enough to sow the suspicion the GOP might be seeking?
No. 5: The Supreme Court opinion on “reconciliation”?
The Supremes didn’t seem very sympathetic to the Emmer side’s argument about the process of tracking the number of voters who vote.
Most key election officials statewide say tracking the number of voters who get those tiny voter receipts is just as accurate — if not more so — than counting the signatures on a precinct roster.
Still, the Court could throw a real wrench into the process with its full decision, which could come any day. Or it could put the matter to rest.
It represents some potential hope for Emmer. Some.
No. 6: Politics of it all
The more time passes, the more reality will sink in. Particularly by Thursday, when the secretary of state’s tally will catch up with Dayton’s, and we will know officially just how much Dayton’s 8,770-vote lead has changed, if at all.
Time heals all conspiracy theories, or should. Already, even Emmer and former Sen. Norm Coleman are suggesting a fair recount could be the end of this episode. Maybe.
Emmer told the Pioneer Press’s Bill Salisbury Wednesday, “I don’t want to put myself or others through a futile process.” But he left wiggle room to fight on if that “reconciliation” issue gets some legs.
Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman — who usually has nothing nice to say about a Republican (or anyone, for that matter) — killed Rep. Emmer with kindness Sunday. He praised Emmer for showing reason by not wanting to pursue futility.
Norm Coleman told the Pioneer Press Saturday “It’s a recount required by law. (After that), [Emmer] has to make a determination based on the outcome. I’ll respect his decision … I have great respect for Tom, and all he’s doing is following the law.”
Still, wiggle room, but Coleman didn’t say, a la GOP chairman Tony Sutton, “We won’t get rolled again.” Everyone seems relatively tempered.
No. 7: Why all the lawyers for Emmer?
Besides wondering what the legal end game is for Emmer, the Dayton side is privately wondering why the GOP candidate had such an army of lawyers at the State Canvassing Board meeting last week.
If the idea is to have a nice, little recount, lose, and then move on gracefully, how do you explain all the suits from D.C. and the usual stable of GOP attorneys and a former Supreme Court Justice on the payroll? That was a whole lotta billable hours if you’re gonna give up easily.
What’s up their sleeves? Whatever it is has caught the Dayton side’s attention. Franken’s lead trial lawyer Kevin Hamilton is expected back to town this week from Seattle; he’s preparing for a trial, just in case.
No. 8: Data Practices Act requests
Remember back in early November when Emmer’s lawyers sent a series of Data Practices Act requests to elections officials statewide seeking all sorts of data? A couple of counties responded that the requests were too voluminous, were sort of fishing.
The names of all election judges, photocopies of all voter registration applications, copies of all election night voting machine printouts. And more. All legit. All time-consuming. But understandable.
Here’s the head-scratcher. We’re hearing from some elections officials that the Emmer team hasn’t made an effort to pay the fees to acquire all the data it requested. In most counties it adds up to about $800, one election official told us. Chump change for a political campaign, or you’d think.
Why hasn’t the Emmer side paid? Are they satisfied that there are no irregularities statewide?
No. 9: Or is it about the money?
The Campaign Finance Board ruled Wednesday that money raised during the election can be used for recount purposes. The two sides can raise more money, too, of course.
But can Emmer raise the sorts of dollars a full-fledged election contest would require . . . millions? Without cash — and lots of it — there’s no way to sustain an election contest, which could last for months requiring a stable of high-priced lawyers and a boatload of legal fees for discovery and witness subpoenas. In 2008, Franken and Coleman spent a total of $20 million on the recount and trial.
Can someone who is behind by nearly 9,000 votes ask a donor to fund a losing effort? What issue can arise in the next week for Emmer that would be worth investing in?
No. 10: Let the recounting begin
It seems as if we’ve been here before, doesn’t it? Except this is much different. This time, the 60th seat in the U.S. Senate isn’t at stake.
At this point in 2008, Norm Coleman led Al Franken by 215 votes. Dayton’s lead over Emmer is 40 times larger than that. That hand recount, with 800,000 more votes in the set — and before any absentee ballots were counted — saw a change of 264 votes.
Emmer needs more than that. Lots more. Which is why the next two weeks will be filled with less urgency than 2008, but just as much curiosity.
Jay Weiner can be reached at jweiner [at] minnpost [dot] com.