ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican Tom Emmer’s legal options for reversing the outcome of the Minnesota governor’s race narrowed Tuesday amid signs that a recount would draw to a quicker conclusion than anticipated.
A state Supreme Court opinion appeared to close off Emmer’s ability to disqualify some votes and make up ground on Democrat Mark Dayton, who was leading by about 9,000 votes. Last month, the court had rejected Emmer’s petition to make local officials match the number of votes and voters using polling place rosters; Tuesday’s opinion offered the court’s rationale and gave support to an alternate process used by some local authorities.
Emmer had been waiting on the detailed opinion as he weighs whether to pursue a lawsuit over the election. His campaign didn’t immediately comment on the court’s explanation.
The state board overseeing the recount may be able to certify a winner sooner than it had planned because a stack of challenged ballots has shrunk considerably. The timing of the certification matters because Emmer has seven days from that point to file any lawsuit, and built-in trial steps threatened to push the case beyond a scheduled Jan. 3 inauguration date.
Dayton wouldn’t be permitted to take office until after any court case was resolved. Under the state constitution, departing GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty would remain in office indefinitely.
As it stands, Dayton is primed to break his party’s 20-year absence in the governor’s mansion and to deny Republicans their 30th governorship in a year when the GOP padded its ranks.
Some steps remain before Dayton can celebrate.
The state Canvassing Board convenes Wednesday to rule on ballots challenged during the manual recount of 2.1 million votes. There had been more than 900 challenges, but both campaigns voluntarily retracted some on Tuesday.
About 200 ballot challenges remain, substantially less than Emmer’s vote deficit. The board had set aside three days to review the challenged ballots. But state Elections Director Gary Poser said Tuesday it is “certainly possible they could get entirely through the regular challenges tomorrow depending on how they pace it.”
Certification, which had been scheduled for Dec. 14, could come by week’s end.
“The sooner the better,” said Dayton attorney Charlie Nauen.
An Emmer attorney, Eric Magnuson, wouldn’t say if his client would object to a speedier conclusion, which would start the clock on a lawsuit sooner.
“When they’re done with their work, they’ll do what they’re going to do,” Magnuson said. “They can do whatever they want.”
In the Supreme Court’s decision, justices said local officials were within their power to use more than one method for pairing the number of votes and voters. In some places, officials count slips of paper known as voter receipts rather than count signatures in polling place rosters. The goal is to make sure vote tallies in precincts match the number of voters.
Emmer had argued that the alternate process was outside the law. The justices, in an unsigned opinion, disagreed.
“Minnesota’s election laws have not exclusively relied on documents signed by voters to determine the number of ballots to be counted in the election,” they wrote.
In places where there are more votes than voters, the law instructs election judges to randomly disqualify ballots to bring the two in line.
Dayton’s recount director, Ken Martin, said the court’s opinion is a blow to Emmer’s chances for contesting the election later.
“This also makes it clear that any effort to file a legal contest on this matter would lose in court,” Martin said in a written statement.
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