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Dayton claims more votes as recount proceeds

ST. PAUL -- Nearly 70 counties have finished recounting votes in the Minnesota governor race, with Mark Dayton's camp claiming he picked up 177 votes in the first day.

Monday night's unofficial secretary of state tally showed that the Democratic hopeful had gained 24 votes on Republican Tom Emmer.

About half of the state's Nov. 2 ballots have been recounted and there is no evidence that Emmer has made inroads into Dayton's nearly 9,000-vote lead.

While he has about 2,000 volunteers and staffers around the state watching recounts, Dayton headed to Washington, D.C. and the Democratic Governors' Association annual meeting.

"If, at the end of the recount, my election is certified and I am elected governor, I will be ready to lead on Jan. 3," Dayton said. "Attending the DGA's annual meeting provides a worthwhile opportunity to share ideas and learn from other governors what we can do in Minnesota to put people back to work and balance the state budget in a fair and responsible way."

Dayton's staff emphasized that no public money was used for the trip. Funds come from those raised to help his transition.

Dayton and to a lesser extent Emmer have operations in place to prepare them to become governor. Emmer says he is not emphasizing a transition team, but Dayton's team is housed in an east-St. Paul office, a floor below his recount team's headquarters.

On Monday, the first day of the recount, secretary of state figures showed that Dayton extended his lead over Emmer to 8,794 votes out of 2.1 million ballots cast. Dayton picked up 20 votes while Emmer lost four.

The statewide, state-funded recount will last several days in larger counties, but smaller counties already are done going through their ballots.

The State Canvassing Board begins a series of meetings on Dec. 8 to consider ballots that the campaigns have questioned. Board members plan to certify a winner on Dec. 14, although the loser could take the election to court.

A new governor is supposed to be sworn in on Jan. 3, replacing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty after his eight years in office.

With a large contingent in the field, Dayton recount officials say they have a more accurate count than the secretary of state. In a report compiled Monday night and early today, the Dayton squad claims to have gained 177 votes over the Nov. 2 count. The Dayton count includes ballots not included in the state tally.

Dayton's people say they have "possible vote discrepancies" in Dakota County. They say some votes were "showing up in the wrong precincts." In some cases, Dakota vote totals were lower than expected.

Portions of the state counted on Monday tend to be more Republican than those left, in the bigger cities, which vote more Democratic-Farmer-Laborite, the Dayton document said.

While the main job of election officials is recounting each of the 2.1 million ballots, Emmer and Dayton representatives are watching as each ballot is examined, and sometimes challenge an election official's judgment about who the voter intended to pick.

Emmer's observers have issued more than 90 percent of the challenges, most of which election officials determined to have not merit. When an official decides that, the ballots are counted but are separated so the State Canvassing Board can make a final decision if it wishes. Dayton's statistics show 890 frivolous challenges statewide, with 422 from Renville County and 323 from Hennepin.

Overall, Dayton's camp challenged 116 ballots on Monday while Emmer's people challenged 1,290.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.