A Minnesota board on Tuesday ordered a recount in the state's undecided governor's race and refined rules aimed at heading off frivolous challenges when the review of 2.1 million ballots starts next week.
The five-member State Canvassing Board certified election totals that show Democrat Mark Dayton with an 8,770-vote lead over Republican Tom Emmer. That's within the half-percentage point margin that makes a recount automatic under state law.
The recount is scheduled to begin Monday and finish by mid-December. The new governor is to take office Jan. 3, but that could be delayed if either side files a legal challenge to the recount result.
Tuesday's certification of the numbers was mostly a formality once it was clear that the unofficial election night numbers weren't going to change enough to raise Dayton's lead to more than half a point. The major issue for both the Dayton and Emmer camps was how the board would handle recount rules, and it spent hours going over them.
Among the biggest clashes was who would decide whether to classify ballot challenges as "frivolous" and whether the board could examine those ballots later. A new rule adopted after the lengthy 2008 recount of Minnesota's U.S. Senate race gave local authorities more power to question the validity of a challenge from a campaign.
Two years ago, campaign representatives challenged more than 6,600 ballots, some for nothing more than stray marks or coffee stains that did nothing to cast doubt on the voter's intent. The campaigns eventually withdrew more than 5,000 of them to spare the board from having to rule on who, if anyone, deserved the vote.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat, defended that rule change and said it would deter the campaigns from trying to game the system. Challenged ballots temporarily hold votes out of candidate columns and can leave a false impression about who's ahead and by how much.
"It's in the nature of the beast to generate six times more frivolous challenges than regular ones, unless there is a prohibition against frivolous challenges," he said.
The canvassing board reconvenes next month to review challenged ballots and award those votes. The panel ultimately decided to segregate challenges deemed frivolous for possible review.
Emmer's campaign argued that local officials shouldn't have final authority to block challenges.
Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson, a board member, said he understood Ritchie's fear of a flood of misguided challenges, but he also worried about giving the loser grounds to sue later.
"All I want, honest to God, is to get this thing resolved so the people of Minnesota can get the governor they elected," Anderson said.
Eric Magnuson, an Emmer attorney, said the board should trust campaigns not to abuse their right to challenge. Asked after the meeting what he considered to be frivolous, he gave a careful answer.
"Frivolous is in the eye of the beholder," Magnuson said. "Sitting at the table, someone can say, `I view that as a frivolous challenge' and they can be wrong. It's not that simple all the time."
Dayton attorney Marc Elias said he takes Magnuson at his word that the Emmer campaign won't lodge challenges without merit.
"We look forward to an orderly, an accurate and a timely recount," Elias said.