On the eve of GOP state convention, party faces a dilemma: Electronic ballots or paper ballots.
GOP may have best chance to win governor's office in 16 years.
ROCHESTER – When the state Republican Party holds its convention starting Friday in Rochester, delegates will have every reason to believe that the apple of their eye — the governor’s office — is well with their grasp.
More than 2,200 delegates from across the state will gather inside Mayo Civic Center to endorse their candidate for governor, as well as those for secretary of state, attorney general and state auditor.
They will be intent on ending an electoral drought dating back to 2006. Tim Pawlenty was the last Republican to win a gubernatorial race in Minnesota — 16 years ago.
Delegates will gather at a time of public dissatisfaction with the status quo and Democratic governance at the state and federal levels. Painfully high inflation, record high gas and diesel prices and soaring grocery bills has created a mood for change among a restive public, GOP leaders say.
And while some of the challenges are national in scope and perhaps beyond the authority of a single governor, Republican leaders believe DFL Gov. Tim Walz is vulnerable on issues related to crime and public safety.
“The big issue for everybody across the state is public safety,” GOP state chairman David Hann said. “Democrats have proven unable or unwilling to address that issue. They show great sympathy to the rioters and disrupters of society but very little concern about law enforcement.”
But the big question heading into the convention not only concerns who among the six candidates GOP delegates will endorse for governor, but how they will do it. And more urgently: Will they have enough time within a two-day convention to endorse four candidates, including one for governor.
A debate has broken out about how the ballots cast by delegates should be counted: Should it be electronic balloting or paper balloting?
The party’s Rules Committee is proposing electronic balloting because it is faster and more accurate, GOP leaders say. But electronic balloting is suspect in the eyes of many Republicans following baseless claims by former President Donald Trump that fraud and electronic manipulation of voting machines stole the election from him.
The proposal to use electronic balloting has to be adopted by the full convention. And if the delegates balk and opt for paper balloting, GOP leaders worry about a grindingly long convention.
Hann points out that every round of balloting by paper takes two hours to administer. And with 13 candidates, four endorsements to conduct and a 60 percent threshold to reach to win the party’s endorsement, he warns that there will not be enough time to complete the work of the convention with a paper ballot process.
“People who advocate for paper ballots are saying that the endorsement isn’t a priority for them, because it’s pretty clear, given the time we have, that you cannot conduct the number of ballots to endorse,” he said. “It cannot be done within two days.”
He notes that the GOP 1st Congressional District Convention held last month in Mankato broke up without an endorsed candidate, after seven rounds of balloting in 15 hours. And that convention had far fewer delegates.
Hann said that the convention may have to work through the night if paper ballots are adopted — a certain recipe for a lot of grumpy delegates. Or the order of endorsements could be reversed.
Currently, the public agenda has the governor’s endorsement set for last, probably on Saturday. A paper ballot process would probably reverse the endorsement order, making it first.
The candidates for governor include state Sen. Paul Gazelka, a former majority leader; Scott Jensen, a family doctor and former state senator; Kendall Qualls, a business executive and think tank founder; Neil Shah, a dermatologist and first-time political candidate; Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy; and former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek.
A lot will be riding on the convention, not least because all six candidates have agreed to abide by the endorsement process. That means none of the losers will challenge the endorsed candidate in a primary election.
“Every governor candidate has met me one-on-one and told me that same thing: They will abide by the endorsement. So we fully expect them all to live up their word,” Hann said.