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Republicans to keep eye on votes today

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ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Republicans say they learned their lesson in 2008, when they felt the U.S. Senate race was stolen from them, and plan to monitor today's election closer than ever.

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St. Louis and Carlton counties in the northeast are especially under the spotlight, Republican state Chairman Tony Sutton said. The GOP will post its people in many polling places and in the auditors' offices in those counties to make sure votes are handled properly.

"We're not leaving anything to chance," Sutton said.

The party and a conservative group not affiliated with it pledge vigilance against voter fraud in what is expected to be a close governor's race, as well as an unusually tight 8th Congressional District contest in the northeast.

Republicans say they do not want a repeat of 2008, when GOP U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman led on election night, only to see Democrat Al Franken win after a recount and Coleman court challenge over absentee ballot issues.

"We have a pretty aggressive plan for ballot security," Sutton said.

St. Louis County Auditor Donald Dicklich said that is fine, if vote monitors do not get in the way

"They have to be authorized to be in the precinct," Dicklich said. "People cannot just be there."

Once votes arrive in his office, the auditor said, "we welcome people to come and check on the results, as long as they are not interfering with any of our election processes."

The anti-voting fraud group Election Integrity Watch is sending volunteers to precincts around the state to keep an eye on how officials conduct today's vote. The group, like the Republican Party, has lawyers ready to intervene.

Election Integrity and other conservative groups advocate requiring voters to show photo identification cards before casting ballots. They claim voting fraud regularly occurs, but goes unprosecuted. Election Integrity has forwarded to officials, including in St. Louis County, cases of what it calls illegal voting.

A federal judge Monday ruled that Election Integrity volunteers cannot wear buttons labeled "Please I.D. Me" at the polls today. The judge said that could send a political message, and political buttons are banned.

Elections officials say little fraud occurs.

St. Louis County was a key to the 2008 U.S. Senate challenge, although no court found major problems like Republicans claim.

Dicklich said that Election Integrity send St. Louis County the names of 59 people who may have voted illegally. While he said that while any fraud is important to investigate, out of 130,000 St. Louis County voters, looking into 59 people is a good percentage.

"Our elections judges out there are doing a pretty decent job," he said.

The potential fraud list has been forwarded to the county attorney.

This year, the northeast is even more important because Republican Chip Cravaack is waging a legitimate challenge to unseat Democrat U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, first elected in 1974. Sutton said that since the U.S. House race sits atop the ballot, it is easier to vote for other Republicans like governor candidate Tom Emmer.

"It bodes well for the Republican ticket," Sutton said.

And it could have an impact if it the governor's race is as close as some predict. Democratic candidate Mark Dayton, for instance, always has said he expects a tight contest.

Most recent polls show Dayton and Emmer in a dead heat, with the Independence Party's Tom Horner falling further behind.

In other election news:

-- The three major governor candidates traveled the state Monday, with Emmer putting in an all-nighter to hit as many communities as possible.

-- While the governor's race garnered the most ink and air time, spirited campaigns also were waged for state auditor, attorney general and secretary of state. All eight U.S. House spots are up for election, as are all 201 Minnesota Legislature seats.

-- Polls in most of the state are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

-- Gov. Tim Pawlenty said on Monday that he plans to meet with the governor-elect Thursday, then hold a joint news conference. He said his administration "has been planning for months" for a smooth transition as he leaves office.

-- Before hitting the campaign trail Tuesday, two of the best-known Minnesota candidates, on opposite sides, chatted while awaiting installation of a new state National Guard chief. Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and Dayton talked like long-time friends.

-- St. Louis County normally is about the last to report votes from around the state, but Dicklich said the county is making changes to automate some vote reporting. "Speed is fine, but making sure you have accuracy is most important."

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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