ST. PAUL -- More than 84 percent of the 2.1 million Minnesota governor race ballots have been counted a second time, with Democrat Mark Dayton maintaining a lead far bigger than any Minnesota recount ever has overturned.

Short of a major surprise, Republican Tom Emmer cannot find enough recounted votes to overtake the 8,773-vote Dayton lead, three more than he had heading into the recount. Emmer's next major step could be a court challenge in the last half of December.

Wednesday night's unofficial secretary of state figures show that Dayton picked up 17 votes in the recount's first three days while Emmer has 14 more.

But 679 likely Dayton ballots that Emmer representatives have challenged are yet to be counted, 534 more than Dayton's people have challenged. If the State Canvassing Board awards most of those votes to Dayton, as expected, his lead would be more than 9,000.

With 92 percent of the state's precincts counted again, all counties are done except for Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis. The final few votes should be counted this weekend in Hennepin County.

Emmer and Dayton representatives are at every recount table as election officials decide who each voter intended to pick, and they may challenge each decision. When that happens, an election official may determine the challenge frivolous and count the ballot or may set the ballot aside for the State Canvassing Board to decide the voter's intent when it meets next week.

The Dayton campaign said more than 2,000 Emmer challenges were ruled frivolous, meaning election officials said it was obvious who voters' intended to pick.

The state board will meet Friday afternoon to discuss what to do with "frivolous" ballot challenges.

When Hennepin County Elections Director Rachel Smith suggested adding more tables to the recount or change the schedule Wednesday, Republicans said they were not prepared to bring in more observers. Smith later decided not to change the plan.

"Smith has repeatedly inserted herself into the action by siding with the Dayton campaign on a host of issues, including her attempt today to arbitrarily change the recount schedule," GOP Chairman Tony Sutton said Wednesday.

In a typical story from a county wrapping up recount work on Wednesday, Washington County officials said Emmer picked up four votes and Dayton lost 17 in the three days of work. County official Kevin Corbid said that Dayton should win up to 25 of 40 challenged ballots.

"I think on most of them the voter intent is very clear and will take very little time to be ruled on by the canvassing board," Corbid said.

Dayton, in Washington, D.C. for the Democratic Governors' Association meeting, will bring home $250,000 for the recount.

The Washington Post reported that association Executive Director Nathan Daschle said: "It's important for us to pay our share."

Scott Wente of the South Washington County Bulletin contributed to this story. Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., parent company of the South Washington County Bulletin.