When ballot counters scrutinized the 1. 4 million ballots in a recount of the Minnesota's governor's race in 1962, Tom Swain gave them Christmas morning off. But they had to be...

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When ballot counters scrutinized the 1.4 million ballots in a recount of the Minnesota’s governor’s race in 1962, Tom Swain gave them Christmas morning off.

But they had to be back at the counting tables by 1 that afternoon.

“Some of them remembered me as Scrooge,” said Swain, 83, who was in charge of the recount for then Gov. Elmer Andersen, who ultimately lost the race after winning it.

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The 91-vote margin was, and still may be, the closest in U.S. history.

Swain, who was Andersen’s chief of staff and campaign manager, is watching with more than idle interest the daily drama of the Washington state’s governor’s race.

“It’s shades of bittersweet,” he said. “I feel sorry for those in Washington. I recognize everything’s at stake.”

It wasn’t until March 1963 that Andersen’s opponent, Karl Rolvaag, the state’s lieutenant governor, was sworn in as governor — four months after the election that saw Andersen win the initial vote, and Rolvaag the recount.

Because there was no law ordering a recount in close elections, the new count was ordered by the courts when Rolvaag contested the election.

Andersen, who died in November, was running for a second term as governor against Rolvaag, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party.

When the votes were totaled after election day, Andersen won by 142 votes. Rolvaag went to court and won the right to a recount, and hundreds of counters fanned out throughout Minnesota’s 87 county seats. Some 90,000 ballots were in dispute either by the Democrats or Republicans.

Swain said, “If you blinked your eye you might lose the election. One ballot. One vote.”

When it appeared that Rolvaag would prevail, Swain urged Andersen to concede, which he did. He said there never was talk of a revote.

Attorney Mary Lou Klas, who worked as an observer for Rolvaag, remembers sitting at a long table, three Republican and three Democratic lawyers reviewing the disputed ballots. There was no animosity, she said, and they all would go out to lunch. “People urged Andersen to appeal, but he said no, the case is done and that’s that. Elmer Andersen was such a great guy.”

University of Minnesota historian Hy Berman said that in 1962 there was no such thing as a machine recount, that every ballot had to be recounted by hand.

One factor leading to the recount, he said, were allegations that there were more ballots than voters in some precincts — which parallels complaints in Washington.

“What you have is Minnesota ’62 all over again,” he said. “But you’re still in the baby steps compared to Minnesota. You have three more months until you catch up to us.”