Emmer v. Dayton, Round 2: Minnesota faces yet another recount

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The canvassing board is back.

Only 16 months after Minnesotans endured the largest, longest and most expensive recount in American political history, another recount battle ensues for the state’s governor seat.

With two major recounts in two elections, Minnesota is having as much trouble of late as Florida circa 2000, sans the hanging chads.The latest election to gain attention in the Land of 10,000 Lakes is between Republican Tom Emmer and Democrat Mark Dayton. Dayton leads by about 8,700 votes, but only five-tenths of a percentage point, triggering a recount of 2.1 million ballots. On November 17, Emmer filed to the state Supreme Court to check if too many ballots were counted in certain precincts.The official recount is scheduled to begin on Nov. 29.

This race is simply the latest for Minnesota, which dealt with an eight-month dispute between former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and current Democratic Sen. Al Franken. With multiple issues in a short span of time, Minnesota is coming to grips with the possibility of another drawn out election.

“Having two recounts in two years is remarkable,” said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. “With Minnesota there is always a third party involved and that always complicates the matter.”

In 2008, Coleman and Franken ran with underwhelming support, each receiving 41 percent of the vote, and leaving Independent candidate, Dean Barkley, an unusual amount of backing. Minnesota’s track record of Independent voting remained high in the 2010 mid-terms. Independent candidate, Tom Horner, received 12 percent of the votes before the recount.

“We have a strong history in our state of independent voters,” said Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann. “Governor Ventura was an example of the independence of Minnesota voters who really look to the individual even more than the party affiliation and I think that’s good.”

The executive offices went almost exclusively to Democratic Farm-Labor  members, while Republicans took both houses of Legislature. When it comes to state-wide votes, Minnesota is firmly in the middle.

“We definitely are a divided state when it comes to these big statewide elections,” said Jay Weiner, author of This is NOT Florida: How Al Franken Won the Minnesota Senate Recount and reporter for MinnPost.com.

Trying to bridge that 8,700 vote divide will be an uphill battle for Emmer.

“A shift of 9,000 votes is a lot,” said Gonzales, “human errors have happened before but usually those errors are caught within the first few days, not the first few weeks.”

However, Republican members are voicing concern over such voting irregularities. Republican party attorney, Matt Hapojaa claimed widespread jamming of voting machines on voting day and Bachmann said that DFL candidates received duplicate votes in both elections.

“It’s reprehensible that 60,000 votes were counted twice in Hennepin County for Mark Dayton,” said Bachmann, ““if 60,000 votes can be counted twice in Hennepin County, what other irregularities are out there?”

“I think they have to pursue this all the way, because this has happened twice in a row now with elections,” she said.

Emmer’s climb back into the governor’s race is much steeper than Franken’s was in 2008 but Minnesota Republican Party chairman Tony Sutton remains committed to getting Emmer into office.

“We have an obligation to do this recount, not just a right. We’ve got to be prepared,” Sutton said to the Pioneer Press. “It’s our role to be the cynic and the skeptic. Even though this is a great state, mistakes can be made. Trust but verify.”

Unlike the first re-count, this time around, lawyers and party members are prepared, with the possibility of another drawn out court battle for leadership in a traditionally Democratic state.

“The stories are the same, but the uniforms have been changed,” said Weiner. “Now, the Republicans are saying, lets not lose another election in a recount. Their big problem is, they’re too far behind.”

With consecutive election recounts, Minnesotans’ voting struggles continue. It may not be the result of Florida syndrome, but the search for a worthy candidate.

“I don’t really see this as a voting problem, I see this as a political divide,” said Weiner. “The most similar thing between the two recounts is not the mechanics of it but in the politics of it because both had third-party candidates … both major party candidates that obviously weren’t popular enough to get to 50 percent.”

While officials wait for the recount results to come in on December 14, Emmer told WCCO-AM radio host Michele Tafoya on her show that he will not delay the decision, but it is unknown whether the GOP still plans to contest the results and push current Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s service past the Jan. 3 deadline.

“Its a little early to tell, the political winds are blowing in a way that he wouldn’t contest it,” said Weiner. “When the recount ends on December 14, if the margin is still 8,700 votes … It’s just going to be really tough politically for anyone to believe that he’ll be able to win that, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”