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Ritchie: Senate recount will involve hundreds, cost $90K

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Mark Ritchie holds a press conference
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie held a news conference at the State Office Building Wednesday afternoon.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

Every single ballot cast yesterday will be recounted by hand.

The recount will not take place in St. Paul at the capitol. Instead, it will be done at the county level. That's where the ballots are right now.

Mark Ritchie addresses the press
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie held a news conference at the State Office Building Wednesday afternoon to address the contested election results following the Minnesota's Senate Race.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

The ballots are stored in secure rooms in each of the state's 87 county courthouses and in the election offices of larger cities.

The people doing the recounting will be county election officials and election judges, citizens.

Physically, here's how the recount will happen. 

Rooms set aside in county offices will have tables and chairs with teams of recounters signing in and wearing name tags.

There'll be as many as four, perhaps even more, sets of eyes watching as each ballot is recounted.

There'll be the recounter, probably a representative from each candidate, Coleman, Franken, potentially Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley, and then perhaps an observer who all sides agree is neutral.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the re-counters will determine the intent of the voter when they encounter problem ballots.

"Normally you fill in the circle, we all kind of know that," Ritchie said. "Sometimes an individual will put a check mark, some individuals will put in an X, some individuals will circle a name, that's fairly easy to determine the intent of the vote."

For disputed ballots, Ritchie said, the scene shifts to the state canvassing board in St. Paul. The five-member board, including Ritchie, two state Supreme Court judges and two district court judges, will rule on each disputed ballot.

Ritchie said the recount will not include absentee ballots that did not arrive in time and were not a part of the count, as the polls closed at 8 p.m. last night.

"Those that arrived a [few days late], which are often from our soldiers overseas, are not eligible, it's a kind of a tragedy in a way of our democracy but that's what the rules are," Ritchie said.

Minnesota taxpayers will pick up the estimated $87,000 recount bill, unless the Republican and Democratic parties choose a recount option.

That option allows the parties to file suit and appoint their own recount observers. It also means the parties pay the cost of the recount.

Ramsey County elections supervisor Joe Mansky said, regardless of who pays, the number of people involved will be large.

"We would bring in a fairly large number of our election judges who would actually physically do the separation and counting of the ballots because in Minnesota all of our recounts are done manually," Mansky said.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said there could be surprises that tip the outcome of the vote in the Coleman-Franken Senate contest.

He said it's happened before  that officials find packets of uncounted ballots. Sometimes, but rarely Ritchie said, the process uncovers voting machines that malfunctioned.

Gov. Rolvaag
DFL Gov. Karl Rolvaag in his office, 1963. Rolvaag won election over incumbent Republican Gov. Elmer L. Anderson by 91 votes, after a recount that took 139 days.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

More common, Ritchie said, is bad math by tired election judges as they transposed tabulated numbers into the Secretary of State's system. 

George Farr doesn't expect any surprises. Farr was the DFL party chairman in Minnesota's most famous election recount.

It was the 1962 gubernatorial contest between incumbent republican governor Elmer L. Anderson and his DFL challenger Karl Rolvaag.  

Rolvaag won by 91 votes after that a recount that took 139 days. Farr was an election judge yesterday as Minnesotans streamed to the polls.

His impression is that today's voting technology far surpasses that of forty five years ago.

"The chances of very many errors occurring is not very good," Farr said. "I would love to be ahead going into a recount."

The recount may go smooth as silk, or it may be quite litigious if attorneys for Coleman and Franken file suits challenging various procedures along  the way.

"We don't know how long it will take," Ritchie said. "We have no idea how many times we'll be in court because somebody likes or doesn't like something.   We know it will be more than three days and less than 139 days."

The recount begins in mid November.