Secretary of State's office outlines rules for Senate recount

U.S. Senate race
A sample ballot, showing the 2008 race for U.S. Senate in Minnesota. The race is heading for a statewide hand recount.
MPR photo/Tom Weber

Gary Poser, the Elections Director for the Secretary of State's office, offered a word of advice and a word of warning to the elections officials who were watching his online training session.

Poser said the recount procedures won't be that different from the other recounts that have occurred in the past. But, he suggested that the attention will be higher.

"The atmosphere is going to be a little bit more charged especially at the beginning just until everyone gets into a rhythm," Poser said. "Make sure that you're listening to those candidate representatives if they're asking you a question about how things are proceeding. Listen to the ideas that they might have. Be fair with what your decisions are but you are in charge of that location."

The training focused on everything from who can handle the ballots to to their role when they're actually counting the ballots.

"The only ones who can handle the ballots are you, as the recount official and anyone who you authorize to handle the ballots," Poser said. "It's not to determine who is eligible to vote. It's not to determine if campaign laws were violated. It's not to determine if the absentee ballots were accepted or rejected properly. It's not to determine if the election judges made any mistakes in administering their polling place. We are simply recounting the ballots."

The atmosphere is going to be a little bit more charged especially at the beginning just until everyone gets into a rhythm.

Starting on Wednesday, Nov. 19, election officials across the state will begin hand counting every ballot. One official from Franken's campaign and an official from Coleman's campaign will sit next to each sorter and watch the process.

"The place to have them is either to your left and to your right either sitting or standing, " Poser said.

Poser said the campaign representatives have the option of challenging a sorter's decision. All of those challenged ballots will eventually make their way to the State Canvassing Board, which includes Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, two Minnesota Supreme Court Justices and two Ramsey County judges.

When the board meets in mid-December it will determine whether a ballot should be included or excluded from the vote total.

Many of the questions submitted during the Thursday training focused on how to handle the challenged ballots, the role of the representatives from the campaigns and the best way to secure the ballots.

Assistant Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann said the recount will be conducted at as many as 120 different sites and local officials are scheduled to handle the recounts in all but seven counties.

Gelbmann said the office is still negotiating to see if elections officials in Stevens, Scott, St. Louis, Wright, La Qui Parle, Todd and Morrison Counties will do the recount. Gelbmann said officials in those 7 counties have either said no or didn't respond when asked if they could do a recount.

"They had to consider their staffing availability," Poser said. "They had to consider how many people they would have on vacation. This is over a holiday. Some of them just didn't have the staff to do it. It's not that they weren't willing to do it, it was that they weren't able to do it."

Gelbmann said officials with the Secretary of State's office will conduct the recount if county officials pass. The office will reimburse the counties three cents for every ballot, costing the state about $90,000 for the entire recount.

As election officials prepare for next week's recount, customers at Kopplin's Coffee in St. Paul are wondering when the recount will end. Margie Makredes said she wants an accurate vote count but is ready to know the winner.

"Fast, quick and be over with it," Makredes said. "Because this has gone on long enough. Negative campaigns, everybody is kind of tired of that whole thing. It will be good to get it over with."

Sitting across from Makredes is Sandra Neira, who said the recount is a valuable civics lesson.

"I think it's good for young people to see that their vote is really important and we do the processes necessary to make it really count," Neira said.

At a different table, Terry Mullen said he's expecting the recount and a possible court challenge to drag on because tens of millions of dollars have already been spent to win this seat.

"The stakes are so high these days, it doesn't seem realistic that someone would bow out," Mullen said. "As you said, $35 million or how much they've spent on this campaign, no one is going to give up easily."

Secretary of State Ritchie said he hopes the recount is finished and submitted by December 5. The State Canvassing Board will start considering the challenged ballots on Dec. 16.