Last governor’s race finally settled: Mark Dayton wins Minnesota

Democrat Mark Dayton topped Republican Tom Emmer by 9,000 votes on Nov. 2, but Emmer insisted on contesting the result. Peculiar Minnesota laws allowed his challenge.

By MARK GUARINO | Staff Writer Christian Science Monitor

posted December 8, 2010 at 5:22 pm EST

Chicago — Minnesota finally has a governor, but like many races in the state, it wasn’t without a fight.

Republican candidate Tom Emmer conceded the race to his Democratic opponent, Mark Dayton, Wednesday, ending a contentious legal battle that left residents without knowing who would succeed current Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) five weeks after the Nov. 2 election.

With Mr. Emmer’s concession, Mr. Dayton is now the first Minnesota’s first Democratic governor in two decades. Out of 2.1 million ballots cast, he won by 0.4 points – 43.6 to 43.2 percent – a 9,000-vote margin.

Despite Dayton’s relatively generous lead, Emmer, a state representative, pressed on with his recount challenge. Waiting for a victor is nothing new for Minnesota voters thanks to a state law that mandates an automatic recount in any election that is settled by 0.5 percentage points or less. Challengers are allowed to contest outcomes through a three-step process: the recount, contesting the election, and an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Determining the outcome in some cases can take months, as was proved in 2008 in what many say was the tightest election in Minnesota history, the US Senate race between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken. Despite winning a ballot recount in January by 225 votes, Mr. Franklin could not claim his seat until June, because of legal challenges.

Voters were preparing for another such battle in the recent gubernatorial race, says Steve Perry, editor of Politics in Minnesota. “People here were certainly haunted by the specter of another 2008,” Mr. Perry says.

But public opinion sides with Dayton. Unlike during the Coleman challenge, where Minnesotans were split regarding who won, two-thirds of state residents think Dayton won the election, according to a poll released this week by Public Policy Polling, based in Raleigh, N.C.

What forced Emmer to concede was a unanimous ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court Tuesday that said local officials had successfully completed a recount process called reconciliation, which compares the number of votes cast against the number of voters registered at each precinct. The 9,000-vote difference was much greater than the Coleman-Franklin situation, which weakened Emmer’s strategy.

Despite some debate that Emmer would continue to the fight aided by a Republican governor, he conceded Tuesday, saying, “Minnesotans made their choice, by however thin a margin, and we respect that choice.”

Perry says the situation already has many in the state debating the state’s recount process. “A lot of people felt an automatic recount in a case like this, with a 9,000-vote margin, was not necessarily a good legal call,” he says.

Dayton takes office Jan. 3.

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