Lawyers Look Ahead In Tangled Governor Race

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Competing lawyers involved in Minnesota’s tangled race for governor maneuvered Friday for a potentially protracted struggle, with Republicans suing for faster access to election data and Democrats challenging whether Gov. Tim Pawlenty should stay in office if the battle drags into next year.

With a recount set to begin by month’s end, attorneys for Republican Tom Emmer and Democrat Mark Dayton demonstrated how each side is readying for a fight that could push through December. The new governor is supposed to take his oath on Jan. 3.

For now, Dayton holds an 8,755-vote lead over Emmer, who is entitled to an automatic hand recount of all 2.1 million ballots. The recount phase is scheduled to end in mid-December, but Emmer and the state GOP haven’t ruled out a court challenge after that.

There’s a lot at stake for both sides in the next moves. Republicans risk a public backlash if they’re seen as stringing out an inevitable outcome simply to make legislative gains by keeping a Republican governor in office longer. Pawlenty, a 2012 presidential hopeful, could be damaged if he’s seen as part of such an effort. For Dayton and Democrats, delay means lost time in power and a more difficult transition.
Emmer’s attorneys sued election administrators in Pine and St. Louis counties, saying they haven’t been quick enough to turn over voter rolls, absentee ballot data, background on poll judges and paper trails from voting equipment. They cited the urgency of the upcoming recount — and noted the potential of a lawsuit contesting the election later.

“Given the expedited timelines for election contests under Minnesota law, as well as the fact that Minnesota has 4,136 precincts, time is of the essence,” wrote attorney Eric Magnuson, the former chief justice of Minnesota’s Supreme Court.

The Emmer campaign wants a court injunction forcing counties to turn over all requested information within five days. The legal brief says the campaign needs the information to assess whether all valid votes were counted and the underlying tabulations are accurate.

Dayton attorney David Lillehaug criticized the wide-ranging data requests and said Emmer’s lawyers have “embarked on one of the biggest legal fishing expeditions in Minnesota history.” Dayton’s legal team argues that the other side is raising concerns about the election without many facts to back them up.

Republicans have said they are still in the process of investigating reports of voter fraud, machine malfunctions and other irregularities. If the 2008 deadlocked Minnesota Senate race is any guide, those issues won’t be fodder for the recount but could be argued in a subsequent lawsuit.

A lawsuit could delay seating of a new governor. A candidate or any registered voter has seven days after a recount to file an election contest, and a trial wouldn’t commence for 20 days after that. The schedule for resolving a challenge could push the race far into January, with fresh GOP majorities set to take over the Legislature.
Under the Minnesota Constitution, the term of a governor runs “four years and until a successor is chosen and qualified.” Many, including Pawlenty, read the clause to mean Pawlenty would stay on longer.

Dayton attorney Charlie Nauen said he sees a gray area.

“If the numbers show that Mark Dayton has more votes, he’s ‘chosen’ certainly by the people and `qualified,”‘ Nauen said.

Dayton’s lawyers said their are looking into their options and stopped short of saying they would seek clarity in court. In 2008, the state Supreme Court refused to order an election certificate issued to Al Franken in his Senate race until the lawsuit was complete.

The GOP didn’t make its attorneys available to comment on the Dayton legal theory. Party chairman Tony Sutton declined comment on whether there is ambiguity in the constitution.

“The Democrats would like this to be about some scheme to extend Governor Pawlenty’s term. That’s not what we’re trying to do here,” Sutton said. “We’re trying to make sure every vote is counted.”

Democrats fear that if Pawlenty stays on, the Republican majorities would advance legislation that Dayton opposes. A key Jan. 15 deadline looms for Minnesota to apply for more than $1 billion in federal health funding, which Pawlenty opposes.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Norton

    Dayton has not been “chosen” by voters because a recount is required to verify that he is the “chosen” one. A fisrt grader could figure this one out. Don’t need a high paid lawyer.
    “Qualified” that is open to interperitation….

  • little_chris

    It would appear that Dayton, not Emmer, has been chosen. The recount is really just that. Recount the votes to ensure they were accurately recorded. Statistics are not on the side of Tom Emmer. I have also wondered about Pawlenty trying to hold on to the seat. I don’t see how a legal challenge would even be anything other than a stall tactic once the recount is completed. You either have the votes or you don’t. Legal challenges would likely be aiming to disenfranchise voters in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. I know that those Minnesota Majority Poll Watchers were at certain voting precincts to look out for fraud, so what is there to argue now? You have a much smaller pool of rejected ballots as I understand it, estimated around 3,000 so where can Emmer make up the votes if they were accurately recorded?

  • Obvious

    Don’t need a high paid lawyer to figure out that Dayton has 8,500 more votes than Emmer either, now with all counties confirming counts. Tony Stupid’s comments to “aggressively fight” these votes one day after the election is exactly the mentality Minnesota does not need representing our state. What a poor representation for MN GOP. Seriously, is that the best?

    Emmer should face the facts and move on and quit wasting taxpayer money and time. He had is opportunity and needs to act with character we would expect from a candidate for governor, and not the dufus he appears.

  • Mark from MNtaxwaste

    As I read the last three comments I wonder if they remember the 2008 Senatorial race. Coleman should have won that race, and it was proven over and over again with votes that were illegally made, and many more issues that were brought out. I for one want to see every effort made to show that all votes were counted, and if it goes to court so be it.

  • HERB

    MarkfromMNtaxwaste – Every legal vote was counted in 2008 and the people elected Al Franken. Unlike ;your guy GWB who stole the White House TWICE. So Emmer lost and now just like Coleman, he wants the taxpayers of minnesota to waste more money that we don’t have to challenge the election results. The outstanding contested votes do not constitute enough volume to overcome Dayton’s lead, so why would Emmer even pursue a recount . . . only logical answer is to extend P’s term long enough to redraw voting districts in favor of the GOP. No, this is not about who will be Minnesota’s next governor, this is about the future of the GOP in Minnesota. More of the shameful conduct we have all come to expect from the party of “NO” or more correctly the party of “SHOW ME THE MONEY”.

  • HERB

    Norton- The voting board has certified that by current tallies, Dayton has been chosen by the people. . So maybe YOU should go back to third grade to learn and understand what “recount” means. Get used to the fact that you and your back room cronies are going to have to wait at least two more years to start fleecing the Minnesota state coffers again.

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