Sparks vs Schwab: Both sides confident in senate race

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 25, 2002

After the recount that narrowed the lead of DFLer Dan Sparks to only three votes, with 32 contested ballots and 17 missing ballots, those representing both Sparks and Sen. Grace Schwab, R-Albert Lea, have started assessing the legal ramifications of the recount.

Attorneys of both sides expressed their confidence that examination of the 32 contested ballots by the State Canvassing Board will favor their candidates.

The majority of the contested ballots were disputed by the Sparks team for ballots that would have been given to Schwab.

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&uot;We should gain at least a minimum of two and possibly as many as six,&uot; said Sparks’ lawyer, Brian Rice. He believes the adjustment, coupled with a favorable consideration on the 17 missing ballots cast for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, would entitle the Canvassing Board to certify a Sparks victory.

The missing ballots were apparently discarded when an election judge in Austin followed too literally an election official’s instruction to &uot;get rid of them&uot; &045; a command apparently intended to mean only to disregard them temporarily while counting votes in the U.S. Senate race.

But Schwab’s attorney, Fritz Knaak, thinks differently. He said if the board overturns the majority of the contested ballots, Schwab will win.

After the recount, which ended Friday, Sparks had 15,076 votes to 15,073 for Schwab in the senate district, which includes Freeborn and Mower counties and part of Fillmore County.

The Canvassing Board will face a difficult choice if the difference in the final tally, after contested ballots are decided, is fewer than 17.

The board’s meeting has been pushed back to December from the scheduled Tuesday date due to the delay in another recount for Senate District 12. The course the board will follow when it meets is uncertain and complex.

Besides discussing the contested ballots, the board will also listen to a report by Bert Black, a Secretary of State official who led the recount, and attorneys for both candidates.

The board can choose not to certify the results, which would result in a special election. But, it also can call for a judicial recount &045;

another recount under the supervision of the court.

Meanwhile, the State Constitution has a provision that states, &uot;Each house shall be the judge of the election returns and eligibility of its own members,&uot; meaning the DFL-controlled Senate could make a final decision However, any determination without having the 17 missing votes counted would likely end up with a lawsuit by the losing party.