Officials say first day of recount off to smooth start

Ballots being counted at the elections warehouse
Ballot are counted at the county elections warehouse Wednesday.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

The recount will take place at 107 locations and involves nearly three million ballots that were cast two weeks ago. Also on Tuesday, lawyers for Franken won a court ruling on access to voter data that they say could help them get a still unknown number of rejected absentee ballots included in the final tally.

The recount will only take a day in a few small rural counties like Hubbard, Chippewa and Nobles. Others will need several days to complete the work. In Duluth, St. Louis County Auditor Don Dicklich is predicting a five-day effort. Dicklich said there was some initial excitement in the morning but the recount soon settled into a smooth routine.

"At the beginning, there were some questions about who could be where and what and all those things," Dicklich said. "This is public recount, and we wanted make sure while the candidate camps had front-row seating in front of the teams that are doing the counting, we wanted to make sure the public had access to view it as well."

Al Franken's lead attorney Mark Elias
Al Franken's lead attorney Mark Elias holds a press conference at the campaign's headquarters. Elias talked about updates with the recount effort and the efforts of the Franken campaign to have access to data on rejected ballots.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Minnesota's top election official said he's heard similar reports from throughout the state. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the recount has been running smoothly with the exception of a few small issues.

"One of the rules said you could you use cell phones near," Ritchie said. "But some county courthouses don't allow cell phones for security reasons. So, how to you work out those kinds of conflicts. But the reports that I've gotten are people are moving quickly and a very common thing I've heard is a very small number of challenged ballots."

The state Canvassing Board met Tuesday to order the recount, which was required under state law because Coleman's unofficial 215 vote lead over Franken was less than one-half of 1 percent of the total votes cast. The board also agreed to reconvene next week to consider a request from the Franken campaign to review what it said were improperly rejected absentee ballots.

As the recount got underway today a Ramsey County judge granted a Franken campaign request for the names of voters whose absentee ballots were rejected.

Marc Elias, lead attorney for Franken, said the campaign hasn't decided yet what to do with the data. But Elias said the ruling could help convince the canvassing board to allow wrongly rejected absentee ballots into the recount.

Norm Coleman's lead attorney Fritz Knaak
Norm Coleman's lead attorney Fritz Knaak.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

"This was not a lawsuit over votes," Elias said. "This was not a lawsuit to put votes in or take votes out of the count. Rather, it was a lawsuit to get access to data that will help us determine whether or not there were lawful voters who were disenfranchised, often times by administrative error, not by an ill intent by anyone, but whose votes should have counted."

An attorney for the Coleman campaign said state law clearly prevents the canvassing board from counting any rejected ballots. Fritz Knaak said he won't challenge the ruling because the campaign is focused solely on the recount. Local election officials are looking at each ballot to determine voter intent. If the intent is not clear, they set the ballot aside. Representatives of Coleman and Franken are at the recount sites to challenge ballots. Challenged ballots are also set aside for the canvassing board to review at the end of the recount. Knaak said he doesn't expect a large number of challenges.

"We're not hoping for a large number of challenged ballots because that increases the amount of work and the decision of the board ultimately," Knaak said. "But, we'll just have to see what comes in. I mean that's going to depend truly on what the ballots are about. I can certainly and affirmatively represent that the Coleman campaign has no strategy to go out and broadly challenge ballots. We're interested in a good recount and it appears to us that we're seeing something similar out of the Franken camp. That pleases us. I hope that continues."

Both Coleman and Franken were in Washington as the Minnesota recount began. Coleman was there for the lame duck congressional session, and Franken to meet with Democratic Senate leaders and attend a fundraiser.

State officials plan to provide a nightly update of recount numbers. Their goal for completing the recount is December 5. The state canvassing board would then begin reviewing all challenged ballots on December 16.

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