Recount in gubernatorial race could begin Nov. 23

DFL candidate Mark Dayton leads Republican Tom Emmer by less than one half of a percent.

by James Nord

With a looming gubernatorial recount and a complete reversal of power in the state Legislature, Republicans turned Minnesota politics on its head as election results rolled in Wednesday.

Democrat Mark Dayton leads his Republican opponent Tom Emmer by less than one half of a percent with all precincts reporting, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State. The 8,856-vote difference between the two candidates âÄî 43.63 percent to 43.21 percent âÄî is within the margin required by state law for an automatic recount. Late absentee ballots could still tip the race outside the margin.

Despite his early lead, “IâÄôm not declaring victory,” Dayton said at a Wednesday press conference. “ItâÄôd be presumptive to do so.”

The governor hopefulâÄôs tentative edge is a far cry from the crushing gains Republicans made in other state races. In Minnesota, the party took 16 seats in the Senate and 25 in the House, ripping both majorities out of DemocratsâÄô hands.

The Republican “wave” was tempered by victories with extremely narrow margins, including some within dozens of votes. Three House races may have triggered recounts, according to the Secretary of State.

“ItâÄôs somewhat almost ironic,” Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said. “ItâÄôs been 24 years trying to get back the governorâÄôs race and we may well get it back this year, but then lose the Senate and the House.”

With Independence Party candidate Tom Horner out and the election a toss-up between Dayton and Emmer, a lengthy recount could require Gov. Tim Pawlenty to extend his term.

“My administration is fully committed and prepared to accomplish the swift and orderly transition to the next governor as soon as a final determination is made,” Pawlenty said Wednesday in a statement. “I will continue to serve as governor until a new governor takes the oath.”

But if a winner isnâÄôt declared by January, Pawlenty could control this legislative session as he has in the past.

House Republican leader Kurt Zellers, likely the incoming Speaker, said itâÄôs “premature” to focus on how the Legislature would work with Pawlenty if he were to serve during the upcoming session.

Zellers called this a “probationary period” for Republicans, saying, “In our opinion, itâÄôs not a time for celebrating. ItâÄôs time to get to work.”

The party will work to create jobs and inspire a business-friendly environment to entice out-of-state investment, he said.

RepublicansâÄô clear focus and lack of outward gloating defied DemocratsâÄô gloomy demeanors.

“No matter how committed we were or hard we all worked, in the end it didnâÄôt matter, the result is the result,” Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said in a statement. “We were not able to bring an exemplary group of legislators across the finish line.”

Pogemiller said he will not seek minority leadership.

A new Speaker will be formally elected Saturday, Zellers said. When asked whether the House committee structure would change, he replied, “Absolutely.”

Following RepublicansâÄô focus on streamlining government, Zellers said committees would be cut and restructured similarly to the SenateâÄôs.

The Republicans also have a “great bench” of prospects for leadership positions, he said. But the next governor will shape the rest of the session.

If he ends up winning the recount, Dayton said he would propose his original budget plan ¬¬âÄìâÄì which seeks to put nearly $2 billion in additional income taxes on the stateâÄôs highest earners âÄìâÄìregardless of the LegislatureâÄôs make-up.

Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DaytonâÄôs running mate, called for bipartisanship, which Zellers echoed.

He wouldnâÄôt comment on how proposals to increase state revenue would be received, but stressed that government must learn to live within its means.

He wasnâÄôt ready to give up on Emmer, either.

“ThereâÄôs going to be a recount,” Zellers said. “WeâÄôre going to stand behind Tom.”

The Republican Party is equally ready to fight for EmmerâÄôs place at the table. TheyâÄôre more prepared this time around than they were for the 2008 U.S. Senate recount, Chairman Tony Sutton said at a press conference.

“WeâÄôre not going to get rolled this time,” he said.

Emmer said in a statement Wednesday that “there is a process in law that will ensure that we arrive at a conclusive result, ensuring that all valid votes are counted and the will of the voters is met.”

The potential recount should move quickly due to ballot law changes and revamped voter tracking systems, coupled with recent experience handling tight races, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said.

“We do believe that our part of the process, the recount itself, will take significantly less time and thatâÄôs our intention.”

County canvassers will re-check ballot counts and present their findings to the State Canvassing Board on Nov. 23. If the margin of votes between Dayton and Emmer is less than half of one percent according to the official results, a recount paid for using taxpayer money is automatically triggered, Ritchie said. If the losing candidate doesnâÄôt decline a recount, it would begin the following week.

If the vote margin is above the necessary percentage, the losing candidate can pay for a recount.

“This is about something thatâÄôs really profound,” Dayton said. “This is about the integrity of an election.”