Land of 10,000 Recounts

Great Seal of the State of Minnesota

(Image via Wikipedia)

To understand why we have a major recount in the governor’s election this year, and why we had one two years ago in the Senate race, you have to understand something about Minnesota.

The state motto is “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but that’s a vast understatement. There are far more than ten thousand named bodies of water, though many of them are just large permanent puddles. The motto should be, however, “Land of Contrasts.”

We have harsh winters, and hot summers. In December and January, the temperature can often get to 20 below zero in the southern part of the state, and perhaps 50 below in the north. Near Minneapolis, our record low was -65. It wouldn’t surprise us to get four or five feet of snow. In summer, it is not unusual to spend several days over 100 degrees. We get fierce thunderstorms, sometimes with enormous tornadoes. Contrasts, and extremes, you see.

Some of the earliest European settlers here were Swedes and others of Viking descent. According to the Elder Edda, the Norse peoples held the world to be created out of ice and fire, and that certainly fits this land. The Norse were a practical people, because they had to be in order to survive. And so, Minnesotans are practical. We tend to do what works.

That doesn’t mean it’s middle-of-the-road. Rather, it means we often embrace extremes. Many is the time I’ve seen my kids go out the door wearing shorts and a parka. It’s not uncommon in the spring and fall to use the furnace at night and the air conditioner during the day.

This tendency to extremes extends to our politics as well. During the period from 2000 to 2002, we had one of the most conservative of the nation’s Senators (Rod Grams) as well as one of the most liberal (Paul Wellstone). Our Governor was a moderate independent (former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura, from the Reform Party). Our state Senate was majority Republican, and the state House was majority Democrat. All at the same time. This is how we are.

My own legislative district, a heavily Jewish suburban area, elected the first Muslim to the United States Congress, now three-term Representative Keith Ellison—who was sworn into office, by the way, on a Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson. He’s a proud and outspoken member of the House Progressive Caucus. But Minnesota is also home to famous right-wing crazy lady Michele Bachmann.

Bob Dylan is from Minnesota, and so is Prince, and the closest thing modern America has to Mark Twain, humorist Garrison Keillor. Minnesota is home to Hiawatha and to Paul Bunyon, and to the only gas station archetected by Frank Lloyd Wright.

We have a long progressive tradition—not because of ideology, but because it works. Minnesota was home to Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, and Walter Mondale. We traditionally have high taxes, because we have to keep the roads clear of snow—and because we value education. For a long time, Minnesota ranked near the top in academic achievements scores and number of both high school and college graduates.

Despite high taxes – or. more likely, because of them—it’s a great place to live, full of museums and zoos and theaters and state parks, all the things that make life worth living. We have among the highest concentration of millionaires, and of Fortune 500 company headquarters. So much for the lie that high taxes drive businesses away. Wealthy people and big companies want to locate to places where their children will get a good education and they can visit well-tended and protected wilderness whenever they want.

We also have MinnesotaCare, a very successful state-run health care system for the poor. We have the Mayo Clinic. We are a world center for diabetes research.

Our current Governor is Tim Pawlenty, first elected in a squeaker of an election in 2002 when Jesse Ventura declined to seek a second term. Pawlenty was reelected in 2006 in a three-way contest in which he got 46% of the vote. Minnesota has a history of centrist and moderate Republican governors (see: Arnie Carlson). Pawlenty seemed to be of the same mold; soft-spoken, polite, handsome, unthreatening. I met him once. He’s tall and gangly with hands the size of tennis rackets.

He promised not to raise taxes. He didn’t — though he did raise all of the regressive user fees and license fees he could think of. Minnesota’s infrastructure has decayed from lack of funding. Local levies and property taxes have skyrocketed. The once-beautiful state parks are now in woeful disrepair. MinnesotaCare is being dismantled. Academic test scores have plummeted. And on August 27, 2007, the Interstate 35 bridge over the Mississippi River in the middle of downtown Minneapolis collapsed in the midst of rush hour, due to inadequate maintenance. Thirteen people died.

Pawlenty has decided to try to do to the country what he’s done to Minnesota. He declined to seek a third term as Governor, and has been running for President for the last two years, instead of governing. But from his record, we’re probably better off having his inattention.

So in this land of contrasts, we had a vacancy coming in the Governor’s mansion. The major candidates in 2010 were Republican Tom Emmer, a right-wing Tea Party type; Democrat Mark Dayton, a firebrand liberal millionaire, heir to the Dayton department story family fortune; and Tom Horner from the Independence Party, because a Minnesota Governor‘s race would not be complete without a major third-party candidate.

This being a land of contrasts, it was, of course, a razor-thin election that requires a recount. The unofficial totals after the election gave Dayton 919,214 votes to Emmer’s 910,459, with 251,485 going to Horner, and four other minor-party candidates each getting between 4000 and 8000 votes. Dayton and Emmer were separated by less than one half of one percent of the total vote, triggering an automatic recount.

We’ll look at how that’s working out tomorrow.

About dcpetterson

D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He lives with his wife, a seriously affectionate pit bull, a cat, and a bearded dragon, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts for fun.
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21 Responses to Land of 10,000 Recounts

  1. Don’t forget to mention that Minneapolis is the cleanest large city in the US.

  2. My lovely wife has many family members in St. Louis Park & Edina. I always love going to visit there.

    Several years ago, we were there during Thanksgiving and it had not gotten cold yet. Temps were in the low 70’s (f for our non american friends). The news was interviewing people out on the golf course, malls and other public places. Although there were a few folks that said they were really enjoying it, the majority complained that “I should be playing hockey…ice fishing…figure skating…snow mobiling”, etc.

    Minnesotans are pretty cool.

  3. dcpetterson says:

    Yes, we are very cool.

  4. filistro says:

    DC.. great article. Since you are (like me) somebody who searches for the “why” in everything, I know you will have thought about this… why do you think Minnesotans are such a variable and independent lot, not just in their politics but in everything? They seem so unique. If you talk with someone for few minutes you can begin to suspect they might be from Minnesota.. and not just because of the accent.

    My theory, based on nothing much except gut feeling, is that it’s the Norse heritage. There is something really unique about that part of the world. Scandinavian, Nordic (and Icelandic) people all seem outwardly private, decent, shy, hard-working and a bit awkward… but inside they have this wild streak of poetry and almost manic individualism. I find it very enedearing. 🙂

    I once met a fairly well-known writer from Minnesota, who was probably the daintiest, most feminine woman I’ve ever encountered. Tiny and pretty, soft little voice, all bouncy curls and peaches and cream, wearing buttoned boots (no kidding) a long skirt, ruffled blosue and shawl. Three littel girls, all dressed just like her.

    In the course of a dinner conversation she told me (no idea how the topic came up) that she and her husband keep an assault rifle in the hall closet along with the gumboots and umbrellas.

    “Why would you do that?” I asked with instinctive Canadian horror.

    She gave me a lovely, dimpled, slightly pitying smile. “Well… because we CAN, of course,” she said.

    I’ll be looking forward to your recount updates. 🙂

  5. dcpetterson says:


    I only have a couple of minutes to comment now. More later.

    It’s odd that you mention poetry, almost in passing. I had intended for this particular article to be a short, data-heavy piece and it turned into an essay on the nature of the Minnesota psyche and how it relates to politics 🙂

    By the way, I’ve got a freebie poem that is going to be available for download later today or this evening (you can try it, but the “download” button doesn’t quite work–it’s supposed to be fixed soon). The story is based on an old Norse tale, so it’s even sort of topical. Maybe it’ll furnish an insight.

    Check this out –> Rune Song. Like I say, it’s free.

  6. filistro says:

    I can’t download it. 😦

  7. Monotreme says:

    It seems to be busted, DC.

  8. dcpetterson says:

    Yes, it is broken at the moment … The Right People have been informed….

    Computers hate us.

  9. Monotreme says:

    At least I haven’t been trapped in an elevator and incinerated by one…yet.

  10. dcpetterson says:


    You’ve been reading ahead.

  11. shortchain says:

    In an odd coincidence, recently one of the computer-controlled elevators in our building malfunctioned. And started on fire.

    I always take the stairs, myself.

  12. shortchain says:

    For those of you interested, the recount is 84 percent completed — and Dayton has gained more votes than Emmer has gained, so that he now leads by more than 9000. The mechanism by which votes are gained, for those of you not familiar with the process, is that rejected ballots are examined to determine the will of the voter, and, if the judges (and they are from all the parties, so this is not a steamroller operation) agree that it can be discerned, then the vote is allowed.

    It’s not so much a “recount” as a “re-examination in great detail of all the ballots”.

    Emmer’s people have challenged about 1000 ballots, of which all but about 6 of the challenges have been thrown out as “frivolous” — in other words, they’re objecting on the basis that there’s a stray mark somewhere on the ballot, that sort of thing.

    Dayton’s people have challenged about 35 ballots, which challenges have also often been judged “frivolous”.

    Tony Sutton, MNGOP, continues to threaten lawsuits after the recount has been finished. The election judges doing the recount have already been threatened with lawsuits if they bring in more tables, extend the daily hours, anything which might speed up the process.

    BTW, the recount process is nonlinear. A small number of ballots will end up taking a disproportionately large amount of the time, which will extend this process into the middle of the month. After that, the lawsuits, I expect.

    The election is, however, not in doubt, and never has been. There is no way, statistically, that Emmer can win. Still, in Minnesota we do things by the numbers.

  13. dcpetterson says:

    shortchain —

    THANK YOU for this update!

    I meant to create one today. My day job and health have prevented me from doing so. I am grateful for your contribution!

    (By the way, Monotreme’s comment about elevators and fire was related to an excerpt he read from a novel I’m working on, a sequel to my previous book, Still Life. It’s interesting to me to hear about life reflecting (as-yet-unpublished) art.)

  14. dcpetterson says:

    A couple of notes from recent stories about the recount (these pre-date shortchain’s update) —
    The secretary of state had documented 842 challenges as of Wednesday night, four-fifths of them from Emmer’s side. But that doesn’t include the thousands of challenges local officials have ruled out of order. Dayton had picked up 17 total votes compared with his Nov. 2 count for the same precincts; Emmer’s overall tally was 14 higher.
    [In] heavily populated Hennepin County … elections manager Rachel Smith has deemed hundreds of Emmer challenges frivolous and counted the votes on the ballots, largely for Dayton.
    Benton County recorded 35 challenges, all but two from Emmer. To chief deputy auditor-treasurer Rod Bunting, they weren’t close calls: They included those challenged over write-ins for down-ballot races; ovals that weren’t completely filled in or where ink spilled outside the borders; and ones where the voter used an “X” rather than darkening the bubble.

    “The candidate representatives were trained differently than we were,” Bunting said. “Voter intent was very clear to me but they challenged it anyway.”
    [Waseca County]:
    After the recount, completed by 5 p.m. Monday, Emmer had 3,578 votes, a gain of one vote, to Dayton’s 2,851, a loss of two votes.

    There were also 114 challenged ballots in the Waseca County recount, according to Oliver.

    Three of the challenges were made by the Dayton observers and the remainder were made by Emmer observers, she said.

    As of 12/1:
    Minnesota’s 87 counties have finished counting ballots in the Governor’s race recount. Now, those numbers will go to the Secretary of State’s Office.

    Larger counties including Hennepin, are among the few still counting. Officials with Hennepin County have about 35 percent of their ballots re-counted. They have finished Minneapolis and are moving on to Maple Grove and Plymouth.

    Officials say there have been 1,300 frivolous challenges with 400 Wednesday.

    They say most have been from the Emmer campaign.

  15. shortchain says:


    I had surmised as much about the elevator/computer issue, since I’ve read Still Life.

    Happy to help out. I’m just waiting for some computers to finish what they’re doing, and the stars to roll around to their proper places.

  16. dcpetterson says:

    Oh, that was you who read it! 🙂 I hope you enjoyed it.

  17. shortchain says:

    I’ve always loved fiction with hot Eurasian babes.


    (Maybe that’ll get you a few more readers.)

    I enjoyed it.

  18. Monotreme says:

    I enjoyed it too. We should let DC shamelessly pitch it during FFF one of these weeks, and then you and I can come along and lay down blurbs for his pitch.

  19. Monotreme says:

    Shortchain said:

    I’ve always loved fiction with hot Eurasian babes.

    Is that what we’d call “testing the Nhol hypothesis”?

    Sorry 😛

  20. shortchain says:


    Dogbert’s rules of punning are “never apologize, never explain”. Words I live by.

    Besides, mathematical puns are the penultimate in punning.

  21. shortchain,

    Mathematical puns are the punultimate in punning. They cast such a shadow as to put all other puns under the punumbra. They belong upun a pedestal.

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