Welcome to Recount 2.0.
It looks as if the Mark Dayton-Tom Emmer race has tumbled into a recount, and here’s how it will look similar to the 2008 U.S. Senate recount — and how it could differ.
It will look alike because the recount again will occur throughout the state — out in the counties and key cities that have election officials. It won’t be a centralized recount.
There will be local canvasses of the votes, with each jurisdiction re-examining its results. A hand recount of all 2 million votes is likely to begin later this month. We’ll probably hear more about the details from Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s office later today.
Yes, there will be challenged ballots because voters occasionally fill in the ovals on their ballots sloppily. But the issue of absentee ballots that so dogged the 2008 U.S. Senate recount will likely be minimized because of changes made by the Legislature during the 2010 session.
Key among the changes: Absentee ballots this time ’round were viewed and accepted by centralized absentee ballot boards in each county. No longer did tired poll workers late at night have to quickly determine if absentee ballots followed the various guidelines.
Also, signature mismatches, an element in the Senate recounts election contest trial, have been eliminated. Code numbers needed to match between the voter’s ballot application and ballot envelope. So penmanship won’t enter into this event.
It also will look alike because some of the key players will be the same.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who was re-elected Tuesday, will be at the center of the process. A lightning rod for the Minnesota Republican Party because of his progressive politics, Ritchie will be on the spot again. On Election Day, when the GOP charged that there was an “unusual” number of glitches in voting machines, party officials evoked the 2008 recount and implied that Ritchie’s office was to blame.
With pre-election posturing from conservative groups about potential “voter fraud” in Minnesota — never proven as a widespread problem — you can be sure that every move by Ritchie and his staff will be closely scrutinized by the GOP.
If 2008 is any guide, however, the DFL will also grow frustrated with the Secretary of State’s Office. During the Franken-Coleman recount, some Dems believed Ritchie bent over backward to be “fair” to Coleman. The guy couldn’t win.
Tony Trimble, who was Coleman’s lead lawyer during the Senate recount, looks as if he will be Emmer’s top advocate. At this writing, it is unclear who will represent Dayton, but it could well be that former U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug, Franken’s lead local lawyer during the 2008 battle, will be involved. Expect Charlie Nauen, who also worked on the Franken effort, to dive in.
We can also expect some of the same vitriol. If the spirit of Paul Wellsone hung over the 2008 recount and the prospect of a 60th Democrat in the U.S. Senate, then there will be many clouds and possibilities hovering about this recount.
For one, it could mean total control of Minnesota government by the Republicans, what with their take-over of the House and Senate. On the flip side, a Dayton win would block that monopoly power.
Also, key leaders of the Minnesota GOP, such as party Chairman Tony Sutton and Vice Chair Michael Brodkorb — and their most loyal followers — have not gotten over Franken’s 312-vote victory over Coleman. They do not want to lose again, or be outworked or outprepared or defeated by the DFL’s use of voter data, should the recount come down to challenged ballots.
As Sutton was quoted in this morning’s Star Tribune: “It looks like it’s recount part II: And this time it’s personal.”
The only inaccuracy in Sutton’s comment is that it was personal last time, too, between Coleman and Franken.
Remember, too, that Tom Emmer’s campaign manager is Cullen Sheehan, who was Sen. Coleman’s campaign manager. Sheehan knows these ropes well.
Let’s not forget another Minnesota recount — the 1962 gubernatorial race. While some nostalgia buffs during the Franken-Coleman recount longed for “the good old days” of 1960s civility, there was nothing polite at all about that confrontation between incumbent Republican Gov. Elmer L. Andersen and Democratic challenger Karl Rolvaag.
Like the 2008 campaign and this 2010 battle, there was a third-party candidate, William Braatz of the Industrial Government Party, a socialist group. Braatz didn’t garner the support that Dean Barkley did in 2008 or Tom Horner did Tuesday, but his 7,300 votes meant that Andersen and Rolvaag tied with 49 percent of the vote.
After the first returns, Rolvaag was ahead by 58 votes, but a politically partisan and divided State Canvassing Board refused to certify the election. As in 2008, the State Supreme Court intervened. With most of its members appointed by Andersen, the Court allowed 10 counties to adjust “obvious errors” in their original counts. That decision caused the election to flip to Andersen by 142 votes, and thus gain the Republican-leaning Canvassing Board’s certification.
In 1962, there was no trigger for an automatic recount, as in 2008 or today, and there was no law establishing a three-judge panel appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee an election contest. Rolvaag sought and gained a statewide hand recount only after filing an election contest petition. In that election, 63 percent of the 1.25 million votes were originally cast by hand — not by machine — in a state that was still largely rural.
Encouraged by their respective political parties to be picky, when the recount got under way, volunteers for both candidates challenged the validity of 104,000 ballots — including 7,000 absentee ballots — a far higher percentage than votes challenged at recount locations in the 2008 recount.
To avoid the appearance of political bias, Supreme Court Chief Justice Oscar Knutson allowed the two campaigns to jointly select a three-judge panel to rule on the challenges and conduct the election contest trial. This laid the groundwork for the later enactment of a law that made way for the statutory creation of three-judge election contest panels.
After months of legal spats and feisty counting across the state, the three district court judges, now hearing the case in 1963, ruled on a pared-down total of about 4,000 remaining challenged ballots. After determining voter intent on each ballot, the judges declared Rolvaag the winner by 91 votes. That process took 139 days, extending to March 25.
Long, but not as long as the 35 weeks of the Senate recount.
This morning there was a buzz about what happens if the recount and a potential election contest last into January when Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s term is set to expire. An early read is that Pawlenty and Lt. Governor Carol Molnau stay in office. The Minnesota Constitution, Article 5, Sec. 2., states: “The term of office for the governor and lieutenant governor is four years and until a successor is chosen and qualified.”
That successor would be named after a recount and after the State Canvassing Board, led by Ritchie, rules. The Canvassing Board does include Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson, who was active among the high court judges in having strong opinions about the 2008 recount, and Hennepin County Judge Denise Reilly, who was one of the three judges on the election contest trial.
But this much we know. If, in fact, the margin is 9,700 votes, that’s a wide valley for Emmer to cross and big chunk of territory to maneuver to flip an election. Despite 2008 and Franken’s come-from-behind win, it is difficult to flip a result.
Still, this much we also know: In 1998, when Independence Party candidate Jesse Ventura beat Republican Norm Coleman and DFLer Skip Humphrey, vote tallies jumped a lot between Election Night and the in-county canvassing of votes.
In the end, when it was official, Ventura beat Coleman by 56,000 votes. But between Election Night and the final tally, Coleman’s total jumped by 10,409 and Ventura’s by 12,431 votes.
Precincts report late. Math errors are made. Ballots are found that weren’t previously counted.
Ain’t democracy grand?