ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican Tom Emmer laid down markers Friday as he considers suing over the Minnesota governor’s election now that it’s clear he will fall short to Democrat Mark Dayton in a recount.
As the manual review of 2.1 million ballots was wrapping up, Emmer didn’t come anywhere near making up a pre-recount deficit of 8,770 votes. Pending ballot challenges won’t fill the gap either even if they all break his way.
That puts the focus on what happens after the race is certified in two weeks. Emmer said he isn’t “currently planning” a lawsuit but he’s not ruling it out.
Emmer, a state legislator, said that before deciding a next move he wants to see the Supreme Court’s reasons for not forcing counties to match up polling place rosters to vote tallies before the recount. The court denied his emergency petition last month but hasn’t issued a full opinion. Republicans contend there are more votes than actual voters in some precincts.
Emmer also put weight on updates to a statewide voter database, which counties are supposed to complete by Dec. 15. Emmer told The Associated Press he wants to cross reference that data with records that could show if ineligible felons or noncitizens voted and whether people who voted absentee also cast a ballot in person.
“I’m not out there asking for anything over and beyond what’s required by law,” Emmer said.
But counties that won’t make the deadline for system updates can seek indefinite extensions and some have, said Gary Poser, the state elections director.
With recount results for all but two precincts, Dayton led Emmer by 8,822 votes with the Democrat likely to gain more votes once challenged ballots were awarded.
Meanwhile, the state canvassing board sternly rebuked Emmer’s attorneys Friday over the number of challenges the campaign has lodged during the recount. Almost 1,000 challenges await rulings from the board, four-fifths from Emmer’s campaign. Another 2,880 attempted challenges were blocked as “frivolous,” and 99 percent were from Emmer.
In tiny Renville County, there were 422 frivolous challenges out of 6,350 ballots in all. Most were because people cast write-in votes for school board positions. Emmer’s challengers construed those write-ins to be marks that could identify a voter, which isn’t allowed, but officials say the law clearly allows write-ins.
“That kind of borders on the ludicrous,” said canvassing board member Gregg Johnson, a Ramsey County judge.
Emmer lawyer Eric Magnuson chalked it up to “overzealous” volunteers. Dayton attorney Marc Elias ripped his counterparts for allowing volunteers to make dubious challenges, noting the same Emmer lawyers promised to avoid questionable challenges before the recount started.
“Whatever proposals are made here should not be more `Trust us, we get the message,”‘ Elias said. “There needs to be some accountability built into the process.”
In a dramatic turn, Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson lectured Magnuson, the former chief justice, about professional conduct rules for lawyers and the punishment that can come with pushing frivolous causes.
But in the end, the Emmer team scored a minor victory: the board consented to a campaign request to let lawyers go over every ballot challenge classified as frivolous. The process will lead Emmer to withdraw some challenges — as Dayton already has — but some of those ballots could come back to the board as legitimate vote challenges. The inspections will start Saturday in Hennepin County, which had the lion’s share of frivolous challenges.
Under board questioning, Magnuson all but conceded there will be a vote gap at the end of the board’s review phase. He said the board still had an obligation to rule on the challenges.
“The difference will inform the decision of candidate Emmer as to whether to file an election contest and if so what issues to raise,” Magnuson told the board.
Emmer said he won’t file a lawsuit merely to delay the inauguration of Dayton. The next governor is supposed to take office in a month. “I’m talking about following the process, the next governor will be seated on time,” he said.
Meanwhile, Emmer and Dayton remain in limbo. And that means Emmer, who runs a small-town law firm, isn’t taking on new clients. He put his law work on hold during the campaign and tapped deep into his savings.
“It will be a different Christmas at the Emmer household,” the father of seven said.
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