Douglas County ready to recount Senate votesIt’s almost over. More than a year after the campaigning began. Five months following the state conventions. And two weeks since Election Day. The 2008 Minnesota Senate race is reaching its end, at least for Douglas County.
By: Mike Enright, Alexandria Echo Press
It’s almost over.
More than a year after the campaigning began. Five months following the state conventions. And two weeks since Election Day.
The 2008 Minnesota Senate race is reaching its end, at least for Douglas County.
Elections officials on Wednesday plan to begin the county’s portion of the statewide recount to determine who will be Minnesota’s next U.S. senator – Republican incumbent Norm Coleman or Democratic challenger Al Franken.
Both men received nearly 42 percent of the total votes November 4, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Web site, with Coleman leading Franken by 206 votes, 0.007 percent, as of press time Tuesday.
Under state law, a recount is automatically triggered in any federal office general election contest when the difference between the top two candidates is less than 0.5 percent.
In Douglas County, Coleman defeated Franken 48 percent to 33 percent.
The county recount is set to start this morning at 8:30 a.m. in the county boardroom, said Tom Reddick, Douglas County auditor/treasurer.
Reddick said a 10-person team made up of him, elections administrator Vicki Doehling and eight election judges will spend two to three days counting by hand more than 20,000 ballots cast in the county.
“Hopefully, by the end of this week we can say the election’s over for us,” he said. “That’s our goal.”
Reddick said election officials will work in teams to recount all the votes, going through them ballot-by-ballot looking only at the Senate race and marking whether it is a vote for Coleman or Franken.
The point, he said, is to verify the county’s election night totals and catch any ballots that may not have been counted by voting machines.
Reddick said that often happens when voters don’t properly fill-in the circle next to a candidate’s name, instead marking the area with an X or circling the candidate.
According to Minnesota law, election officials must count an improperly marked ballot if the voter’s intent is clear, but campaign representatives can also challenge any such ballot.
“So, if we say it’s a Coleman vote, and if [the campaign representative] says, no, that’s not a Coleman vote, we’ll set that aside,” Reddick said. “Then we will go through all the ballots and come back to the set-aside ones, and if we cannot agree, those will be sent down to St. Paul [to the State Canvassing Board] for final appeal.”
Doehling, the elections administrator, said she has spoken with people from both the Coleman and Franken campaigns, and expects representatives from each side to attend.
She said she doesn’t expect too many problems with the recount.
Doehling said the county already did a smaller recount, as required by the federal government, immediately after the election.
Officials selected two random precincts – Lake Mary Township and Forada city were chosen – and counted up more than 800 ballots, she said, finding only two discrepancies.
“And neither of them were in the Senate race,” she said.
Doehling said county officials will not be recounting any previously rejected absentee ballots.
Of a total 2,400 absentee ballots cast in Douglas County, she said, 59 were rejected either because they arrived too late or the voter wasn’t properly registered.
It will be up to the state to decide how to handle those ballots, Doehling said.
Members of the public are allowed to attend the county’s recount.
Here are highlights of the upcoming Minnesota U.S. Senate race recount:
• Every one of the 2.9 million ballots cast in the U.S. Senate race will be examined individually by local or state elections officials at 107 sites statewide.
• Under state law, the officials' job is to determine the candidate each voter intended to select. For instance, some voters do not fill in an oval by a candidate's name, perhaps using a check mark instead; a ballot-reading machine would not count the vote and the law requires officials in a recount to decide each voter's preferred candidate.
• Either campaign can challenge an election official's decision about who the voter intended, which requires the ballot to be placed in a pile that eventually will be examined by the state Canvassing Board.
• Every recounting site is open to the public, although only elections officials are allowed to touch the ballots. Campaign representatives will sit near the officials.
• Both campaigns have said they probably will have multiple volunteers at each counting site, including lawyers.
• By 8 p.m. each day of the recount, the secretary of state plans to update vote totals at www.sos.state.mn.us, including every precinct recounted to that point.
• Once recounts are done, challenged ballots will be sent to St. Paul, where the five-member state Canvassing Board will examine each one beginning December 16. If there are a lot of challenged ballots, that board's decisions could decide who is the next senator from Minnesota.