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Politicos ready for potential recounts, given Minnesota’s recent history

With 10 electoral votes up for grabs and two controversial constitutional amendments on the ballot, many of the players here have lawyered up.

A scene from November 2008: Recounting ballots in the Coleman-Franken contest.
MinnPost file photo by Marisa Helms

If there’s one thing Minnesota knows, it’s election recounts, after living through the 2008 Franken-Coleman Senate race marathon and 2010’s shorter Dayton-Emmer recount in the governor’s race.

Nationally, this cycle, both campaigns are preparing for possible recounts in battleground states that could determine the presidency, according to Politico.

That means recruiting lawyers.

“They are all bracing for Florida in 2000 — everyone wants to be in position so as not to be disadvantaged by a court decision in a tie,” Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain’s 2008 campaign, told Politico. “This [is] a preventive strategy. They are largely in search of problems that don’t yet exist. It’s like the Cold War and nuclear capability. You want to have what the other guy has.”

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In Minnesota, with its 10 electoral votes up for grabs and two controversial constitutional amendments on the ballot, many of the players have lawyered up, too.

Ken Martin, chairman of the DFL, said attorneys are currently working to catalogue information to prepare for any potential recount here but wouldn’t address specific examples. The party itself has hundreds of lawyers across the state, he said, to help with election integrity efforts at the polls.

The Obama campaign has retained David Lillehaug, a prominent DFL attorney who worked on Minnesota’s last two recounts, Martin said. Iin the case of a recount in Minnesota’s presidential race, Lillehaug would take direction from Obama campaign attorney Bob Bauer and the Democratic National Committee, Martin said.

“Some of the best lawyers in the state are on retainer just in case, and that’s clearly what’s happened here,” he said. “I think Obama is going to win this state, but if it [a recount] does happen, we’re certainly not going to get caught flatfooted. We’ll be prepared.”

Jeff Blodgett, who is running Obama’s campaign here, said Bauer likely hasn’t spent much time thinking about Minnesota so far.

Kelly Fenton, deputy chair of the Minnesota GOP, declined to comment on who state Republicans have retained. Romney doesn’t have a campaign organization here, but the state party has established its own ground game for the candidate.

David Lillehaug
David Lillehaug

GOP Chair Pat Shortridge told KARE 11 that his party “has more election judges and poll watchers than ever before.”

The closest congressional race is expected to be the 8th District contest between GOP incumbent Chip Cravaack and former Democratic Congressman Rick Nolan.  Returns there are expected to come in slowly, because of write-in votes in the District 7B House race.

For any recounts in state legislative races down ticket, Martin said the party has retained DFL attorney Charlie Nauen and other lawyers from Lockridge Grindal Nauen.

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Martin, who led Dayton’s 2010 recount effort, said he joked with folks from that gubernatorial campaign shortly before Election Day about the possibility of a recount. They determined it probably wouldn’t get to that point. “And of course it happened,” he said.

“All the top lawyers on our side of the fence are ready, not because we think it’s close,” he added. ”Every election, regardless or not if you think it’s close, you prepare for a recount.”

The two constitutional amendments on the ballot present a more interesting scenario because there is no automatic margin that triggers a state-funded recount on a ballot question. Instead, one side would have to instigate, and pay for, an election contest. Recount bills could range between $2 million and $3 million, Martin said.

In order to pass a ballot question, more than 50 percent of total ballots cast have to support the amendment, which also complicates the potential for a recount.

Polling shows both amendment questions too close to call. One amendment would define marriage as solely between one man and one woman, and the other would require a photo ID to vote and would alter Minnesota’s election system.

Martin said Minnesotans United for All Families, the main coalition opposing the marriage amendment, also has retained Nauen for counsel on any recount issues. Campaign spokeswoman Kate Brickman wrote in an email that the campaign isn’t “commenting on those matters.”

Andy Parrish, deputy campaign manager for Minnesota for Marriage, the main pro-amendment group, is exclusively focusing on get-out-the-vote efforts. “We’ll just deal with what we have to deal with after Election Day.”

On the voting amendment, Greta Bergstrom, a spokeswoman for the opponents, said their campaign currently doesn’t have an attorney on retainer.

 Dan McGrath, who is running the Protect My Vote campaign supporting the amendment, said his group doesn’t have any concrete plans. “We could do a contest, but we’re not prepared to engage that battle at this point.”