The first stage of MinnesotaâÄôs gubernatorial recount ended Friday as Hennepin County finished hand tallying roughly 470,000 ballots cast on Election Day and joined the stateâÄôs other 86 counties in taking a breather before the State Canvassing Board meets this week.
Republican Tom Emmer still trails DFL opponent Mark Dayton by 8,675 votes.
Attorneys for both candidates appeared before the board Friday while the recount progressed as part of an unscheduled meeting meant to address the large influx of "frivolous" ballot challenges originating from the Emmer campaign.
New rules and state laws make it easier for election officials to declare a ballot challenge frivolous. The most cited factor in a ballot challenge is an "identifying mark," which could alert an official on Election Day that a specific voter cast a ballot for a predetermined candidate.
The new regulations allow local officials significantly more discretion when throwing away ballot challenges they deem frivolous.
Statewide, the Emmer campaign made at least 2,845 challenges that election officials deemed frivolous. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie expressed irritation at the high number in the beginning of the State Canvassing Board meeting Friday. On Thursday, the Dayton campaign withdrew all of its challenged ballots which were deemed frivolous.
After a request from EmmerâÄôs attorney Eric Magnuson, the board will allow each campaign to review frivolously challenged ballots this week. Because of its size, lawyers for each campaign reviewed challenged ballots in person in Hennepin County on Saturday. The rest will be copied and sent to the candidates.
Magnuson withdrew nearly all frivolous challenges from Emmer representatives in Hennepin County. The campaign made at least 2,100 frivolous challenges there.
The county saw an average of 700 frivolous challenges a day.
"Emotions got high in Hennepin County" between election officials and Emmer representatives, Magnuson said.
In Renville County, an "overzealous" Emmer representative challenged 422 ballots âÄìâÄì every one where a voter wrote in a candidate, Magnuson said. There are only 9,089 registered voters in the county.
ItâÄôs unclear if the board will review ballots deemed frivolously challenged by local election officials. The review isnâÄôt required by law.
Even if the total number of ballots challenged fell into the Emmer campaignâÄôs lap, the margin isnâÄôt large enough to tip the election in his favor. His only option is an "election contest" or a lawsuit meant to address issues Emmer has raised since the recount began.
In November, the state Supreme Court denied a request by Emmer to check that the total number of voters matched the number of ballots cast.
The board is scheduled to finish reviewing challenged ballots Friday and is set to declare the election Dec. 14. Emmer has a week after the deadline to file a lawsuit but said he has not made plans to do so.