FAQ on the Senate recount

Ballot box
This ballot box holds absentee ballots marked in person at the Ramsey County elections office in St. Paul. The ballots are distributed to the correct polling places on Election Day.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Answers to some of your questions about the recount process in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race.

WHEN DID THE RECOUNT BEGIN?

The State Canvassing Board met on Tuesday, Nov. 18 to certify the all results of the Nov. 4 election. The board ordered a recount in the Senate race, which is required by state law because of the slim margin.

WHO SITS ON THE STATE CANVASSING BOARD?

The Canvassing Board has five members -- the Secretary of State, two Minnesota Supreme Court justices, and two other judges named by the Secretary of State. None of the judges who serve on the board can be up for election on the ballot they are reviewing.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie named Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson and Justice G. Barry Anderson to the board, along with Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin and Judge Edward Cleary.

HOW WILL THE RECOUNT WORK?

Every single vote cast for the U.S. Senate candidates will be recounted by hand.

The official recount is being conducted in approximately 110 locations throughout the state, generally in every county courthouse and in the city halls of major cities. In some locations more than one recount "station" will be used depending on the size of the jurisdiction.

The people doing the recounting are county election officials and election judges. Teams of recounters will examine each ballot and record the vote.

As many as four, perhaps even more, observers have been present as each ballot is recounted -- the election judge doing the recounting, representatives from each candidate's campaign, and any other interested parties. The recounts and canvassing board meetings are all open to the public.

WHAT ARE THE RECOUNT OFFICIALS LOOKING FOR?

The recounters are trying to determine the intent of the voter when they encounter problem ballots.

Most voters fill in the circle next to the candidate they choose. But sometimes an individual will put a check mark or an X next to a name. Others will circle a name. Ballots marked in that way cannot be scanned by the voting machines, so they wouldn't have been counted the first time around.

If a voter's intentions aren't clear by looking at a ballot, or if there is any objection to the decision being made by the election official by either one or both of the candidates' representatives, the ballots in dispute become "challenged" ballots that will go to the State Canvassing Board for review.

HOW LONG WILL THIS PROCESS TAKE?

Local election officials have until Dec. 5 to complete their portion of the recount, and to forward their results and any challenged ballots to the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State will put together a final summary of the results and present it to the State Canvassing Board. The board will meet in St. Paul on Dec. 16 and rule on each disputed ballot. At the end of this process, the Canvassing Board will certify the results of the election and declare a winner.

The board hopes to complete its work by Dec. 19.

HOW MUCH WILL THIS COST?

Ritchie says the cost of a recount is about 3 cents per ballot. Since there are nearly 3 million ballots to count, the total will be about $90,000. It will be paid by taxpayers.

COULD THIS END UP BEING TAKEN TO COURT?

It's quite likely that the outcome could be decided in a courtroom instead of an election office.

Either candidate -- or any eligible voter -- can head to court to challenge the way the election was conducted or the votes were tallied. The challenge must be filed within a week of the post-recount canvass.

The two sides will likely wait until the State Canvassing Board certifies the results after the recount, before one of them files a civil action in Ramsey County District Court.

HOW WOULD THE CASE PROCEED?

If a case is filed, state law requires that it go to trial in just 20 days. In that time, a judge would appoint dozens, or even hundreds, of three-person teams of ballot inspectors, all over the state, to sort through the votes.

Each campaign would name one person to each team, and both parties would have to agree on a third neutral person for each team. The teams will put aside the obvious votes and flag disputed ballots for review by the court.

By law, the judge in the case would make a decision on each disputed ballot. But since nearly all judges are political appointees, the two sides might ask for a panel of three judges to decide the case.

If one side or the other does not like the outcome, they could ask the state Court of Appeals to act.

WHY WOULD A CANDIDATE CHOOSE THIS PROCESS INSTEAD OF GOING WITH THE SECRETARY OF STATE'S RECOUNT?

Under the Secretary of State's recount, the candidates have very little control over the process.

Under the court's jurisdiction, the candidates, their attorneys and the political parties would become involved. Each party would choose representatives to review each ballot and will argue for or against its inclusion, depending on their viewpoint.

Under this scenario, the recount conducted by the Secretary of State is essentially rendered meaningless.

If the candidates go this route, the recount becomes much more expensive, but the parties involved would pay the cost -- not Minnesota's taxpayers.

Since the stakes in this race are very high and have national implications, there will probably be money, lawyers and political operatives from all over the country heading this way to become involved.

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