WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2010— -- You could call it the "Land of 10,000 Recounts."
Two years after a U.S. Senate race cliffhanger sparked a costly and contentious eight-month electoral recount and legal battle, Minnesota could be headed down the same path again.
Unofficial results from Tuesday's gubernatorial race between Democrat and former Sen. Mark Dayton and Republican businessman Tom Emmer give Dayton a 8,781-vote lead, or less than one half of one percent of the vote.
If the slim margin holds after election officials finalize the tally and no candidate concedes before a state canvassing board meeting Nov. 23, it would trigger an automatic statewide recount of all ballots.
"There is a process in law that will ensure that we arrive at a conclusive result, ensuring that all valid votes are counted and the will of the voters is met," Emmer said in a statement Wednesday.
Dayton echoed his opponent, calling a recount "entirely appropriate," if it comes to that.
A Dayton victory in the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" could be one of the few bright spots for Democrats in the wake of bruising losses in Congress in the midterm elections. President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi campaigned for Dayton in the final days of the campaign.
Of the 37 states that elected governors Tuesday, only 11 victors were Democrats.
Some observers say Dayton's nearly 9,000 vote margin could be impossible for Emmer to overcome.
When Republican incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman emerged in 2008 from Election Day with a razor thin lead over Democrat Al Franken, the fierce recount battle between the two campaigns focused primarily on 12,000 absentee ballots, some of which had been wrongly rejected.
The so-called Great Minnesota Recount lasted months and was broadcast live on TV and on the Internet as state election officials and aides from both sides poured over 2.9 million ballots, their hanging and dimpled chads and scrawled write-in names.
In the end, the recount swung 500 votes back in Franken's favor.
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This year, 2.1 million ballots were cast for governor and only 3,000 absentee ballots were rejected, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State's office. Even if all of the rejected ballots were votes for Emmer and were reinstated, that would not close the gap.
Moreover, ballots rejected because a voter provided insufficient information or failed to submit it on time would only be reevaluated if challenged in court, a spokesman for the Secretary of State's office told ABC News. They are not reopened during a recount under Minnesota law.
The state canvassing board will decide later this month whether to proceed to count all ballots again. If it does, the process would begin Nov. 29 with a goal of concluding the count and certification by Dec. 14, the Secretary of State's office said Friday.
The new governor is set to be inaugurated Jan. 3. If the outcome is still undecided, however, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty will remain in office until his successor is confirmed.
"I will continue to serve as governor until a new governor takes the oath," Pawlenty said this week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.