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Smaller counties begin wrapping up recount

Minnesota's least-populated counties wasted no time today recounting their portion of 2.1 million ballots in the governor's race.

Cook, Hubbard, Mahnomen, Wilkin, Jackson, Norman, Cottonwood, Wadena, Watonwan, Rock, Red Lake, Lincoln and Traverse counties wrapped up their work by early afternoon. Many other counties, mostly outside of the Twin Cities, were expected to finish by day's end.

Early reports indicated that vote totals for Republican Tom Emmer and Democrat Mark Dayton were changing little. The most action was in the state's largest county, Hennepin, where Emmer's recount team challenged several election judges' decisions.

Election judges are going through ballots, placing them in piles for Emmer, Dayton and other candidates. The two campaigns may challenge judges' decisions, in which case the State Canvassing Board would decide voters' intent when it meets next month.

Many of the early challenges were called frivolous by election officials.

In many places, the same people who conducted the 2008 U.S. Senate recount between Norm Coleman and Al Franken were in place today.

In Hubbard County, in the northwest, workers greeted each other and auditor's staff as old friends.

Many assumed the seats in Park Rapids they had taken in 2008, with one laughing to photographers that, "you could just use one of the old pictures."

The morning went smooth and quiet in Hubbard County with Emmer gaining four votes and Dayton two, typical of the small changes many counties reported.

In west-central Minnesota's Willmar, no problems were reported in the Kandiyohi County recount, which was expected to end later today.

Besides official representatives for Dayton and Emmer that are keeping a close eye on how the ballots are sorted and counted, at least a dozen other people are watching the Kandiyohi procedure. Most of those individuals are Dayton supporters.

The hand count in Washington County, in the western Twin Cities, is expected to wrap up by Wednesday.

Kevin Corbid, director of property records and taxpayer services, said a post-election day audit of four Washington County precincts resulted in only two changes to the county's vote totals and recounts seldom produce results, "but it does happen."

New, tougher ballot-challenge rules were tested in Washington County, when an Emmer recount observer challenged that a blank ballot be counted for the Republican. The challenge was deemed frivolous by Carol Peterson, the county's elections administrator.

It should take about four work days to recount the 86,000 ballots cast in St. Louis County, County Auditor Don Dicklich said.

Ballots were wheeled out of locked storage and escorted by county officials and members of each party's election teams, then recounted at tables in the county board meeting room on the second floor of the Duluth courthouse.

By late morning in Goodhue County, recount observers representing Dayton and Emmer, had not challenged any ballots. That compares to a total of 32 challenged ballots in the 2008 Senate race.

Goodhue County Finance Director and recount deputy Carolyn Holmsten said election officials were on track to finish the counting by 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. today.

"It's been going fine," she said. "People have been very good and respectful from both campaigns."

Early reports indicated that the Dayton recount effort produced more volunteers at county offices than Emmer. Dayton's people said more than 2,500 would be on the ground today.

Dayton's team also produced Tweets every few minutes to update followers on what was happening around the state.

Statewide, Dayton held an 8,770-vote lead heading into the recount, larger than any Minnesota recount has reserved.

Counties have until Dec. 7 to finish their work. The State Canvassing Board is to begin a round of meetings the next day to examine ballots where questions remain. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has a goal of the board determining the winner by Dec. 14, but the loser could take the election to court in a lengthy process.

A new governor is to be sworn in on Jan. 3.