Tensions mount on day 3 of gubernatorial recountby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Tensions continued to mount Wednesday in the governor's race recount in Hennepin County.
Elections officials wanted to add more counting tables in hopes of keeping the recount from bogging down with frivolous ballot challenges. They blame Republican Tom Emmer's side for the vast majority of frivolous challenges.
The Emmer side threatened legal action if more tables were added, and the chair of the state Republican Party accused Hennepin County's top elections official of being biased toward Democrat Mark Dayton.
Emmer recount officials accused Plymouth City Clerk Sandy Engdahl of overstepping her bounds with comments about Emmer's ballot challenges.
Engdahl is helping to oversee election judges who are sorting and counting the ballots and ruling objections to the challenges frivolous when they believe a voter's intent on the ballot is clear.
View a slideshow of challenged ballots.
As Emmer representatives told Engdahl to be more professional, Hennepin County elections manager Rachel Smith told Engdahl she was doing a great job.
On day three of the recount rumors were flying about an alleged Emmer side ballot challenge quota.
"We also overheard some conversations today that the goal today from the Emmer campaign was 50 ballots per precinct," Smith said.
Later, Smith side-stepped a question about the alleged quota. She said frivolous ballot challenges were running at about the same pace as Tuesday which was up several fold over Monday.
Smith has been saying the challenges are slowing down the recount. To help speed up the process she wanted to add three or four more counting tables to the 25 current tables. But that plan met with fierce opposition from the Emmer campaign.
"We basically were told that if we tried to add more tables we'd be taken to court, so at this point in time we'll just continue to do as much as we can," Smith said. "Basically it's just not worth the fight at this point."
Emmer recount attorney Tony Trimble denied his side had imposed any challenge quota.
"In fact many of these precincts have had no challenges at all today and if you look over the precincts for Monday and Tuesday we have some precincts that might have had 30 or 40 challenges, other precincts with as many as 2,000 votes having, no challenges," Trimble said.
Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton issued a statement accusing Smith of repeatedly siding with the Dayton campaign and attempting to change the rules of the recount. Sutton said it was Smith who is slowing the recount down and said the GOP would not be intimidated by her actions.
Smith said she has been looking for ways to speed up a process that has been slowed by more than a thousand frivolous challenges by the Emmer campaign. She denied any partisan slant.
"I don't work for either one of the parties. I'm here for the citizens of Hennepin County and we're trying to do a big job as fairly and expeditiously as we can to meet the guidelines that we were given," she said.
Jeff Vavra of Minnetonka responded late last night to an Emmer campaign 11th hour appeal for ballot observers. He said no one told him to object to ballots to get the numbers up.
"I haven't been instructed on anything along those lines, and in fact, I only had a total of three challenges all morning," Vavra said. "So if there's quotas I didn't hear of them and I'm not meeting them."
SECRETARY OF STATE: MORE TABLES WOULDN'T VIOLATE RULES
Dayton recount attorney David Lillehaug said his side would support any effort to speed up the recount. The Secretary of State's office said that adding more tables would not violate any rules.
Lillehaug said if the Emmer side were concerned about following rules, they would back off from challenging perfectly clear votes for Dayton.
"Well, all of this is caused of course by the grossest violation of the rules by Emmer which is making all of these frivolous challenges," Lillehaug said. "And so Hennepin County is just doing a logical and reasonable thing to respond to a wholesale violation of the rules by Emmer."
Hennepin County officials say they are proceeding on schedule despite the challenges. But on schedule means they're not on track to finish early and that means it's likely they'll be counting ballots at the government center this weekend.
- All Things Considered, 12/01/2010, 5:20 p.m.