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Dayton says recount delay could slow budget work

Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, leading in a governor race recount, said the $6.2 billion budget deficit is not fiction, as current Gov. Tim Pawlenty called it. Dayton said that next week he will begin to look at top budget appointments if he is named governor. Don Davis/Forum Communications Co.

ST. PAUL -- The leader of Minnesota's governor race fears a delay in naming a winner past mid-December will hinder state budget preparation.

Democrat Mark Dayton said a recount of all 2.1 million ballots cast in the Nov. 2 election has forced him to do things other than concentrate on what Minnesotans found out Thursday will be a $6.2 billion deficit.

"It's created a diversion of time, resources (and increased) fundraising responsibilities," Dayton said.

Dayton continued to hold a strong lead Thursday night when the secretary of state's office released its unofficial recount update. Dayton led Republican Tom Emmer by 8,725 votes, with 93 percent of the votes recounted. That is just short of the lead Dayton held at the beginning of the recount.

Only Hennepin and Ramsey counties still are counting ballots. Ramsey could finish today and Hennepin may stretch into Saturday.

The recount, which began in all 87 counties on Monday, features election officials examining each ballot to determine the voter's intent. If an Emmer or Dayton representative disagrees with the official's decision, the ballot is called "challenged."

However, an election official has the power to declare a challenge as frivolous, if he or she feels the voter's intent is clear, and the vote is then counted.

Dayton's recount team said Thursday that it would withdraw all 42 of its "frivolous" challenges before the State Canvassing Board meets today. As of Wednesday night -- Thursday night figures were not available, election officials had declared more than 2,500 Emmer challenges as frivolous.

The state board meets today to decide if it could act on frivolous challenges.

Dayton seemed to take the recount in stride.

"Close elections are not the exception to life in a democracy," he said.

His transition team, which has hundreds of names of people interested in being in a Dayton administration, works out of an East St. Paul office. It is privately funded, but when a person is declared governor-elect, the state pays for the transition office and houses it in state facilities.

Dayton said he would focus on naming revenue and finance commissioners first, because of the need to delve into budget matters. Interviews could start as early as next week, with him announcing appointments about the time the State Canvassing Board plans to name a governor race winner on Dec. 14.

However, the picture would be muddied if Emmer loses the recount and takes the election to court. Dayton said his attorneys feel that if a court case stretches into the new year, that current Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty would be forced to say on the job until the case ends and a new governor is declared.

Pawlenty says he hopes he does not need to remain in office beyond Jan. 3, but the state constitution requires him to if a new governor is not certified by then.

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.