All over the state, county elections officials are gearing up for a second statewide recount in two years. If everything goes as planned, most expect the process will go more quickly, and with fewer hiccups than in 2008.
If legal challenges don't delay the process, on Tuesday the State Canvassing Board is expected to order a recount in the governor's race. If it does, hand counting of more than 2 million ballots could begin one week from Monday with an eye toward certifying the 2010 election results by the middle of December.
In Hennepin County, almost half a million ballots were cast. They are all under lock and key at the government center in downtown Minneapolis. This time around, they will be tallied centrally rather than at numerous sites around the county the way they did it in 2008.
"They're guarded 24/7 by a sheriff's deputy," said Rachel Smith, the elections manager in Hennepin County.
Two years ago, Smith was overseeing the recount in Anoka County. She thinks this year's recount will go more smoothly than the last one.
"Some of the rule changes regarding eliminating the frivolous challenges will help increase the speed of the recount," she said.
A new administrative rule prohibits partisan observers from objecting to ballots by claiming that stray marks or scribbling amount to so-called identifying marks. From now on, identifying marks are defined as a signature or an identifying number written completely outside any write-in spot. The new rule authorizes local elections officials to dismiss ballot challenges related to identifying marks that they think are frivolous.
But the Republican side says only the State Canvassing Board can decide whether a ballot challenge is frivolous. They are asking the canvassing board to amend the new rule accordingly.
Kevin Corbid, who oversees elections in Washington County, said the last recount was flush with frivolous ballot challenges from both sides and he and his colleagues don't want to see that happen again.
"I hope that whatever direction we get allows the counties to operate judiciously and fairly, but to reduce the number of what were clearly a lot of frivolous challenges in 2008," Corbid said.
In northern Minnesota, Beltrami County Auditor-Treasurer Kay Mack has about 16,000 ballots to recount.
"Here we go again," Mack said. "One thing we do know is that after 2008, we know how to do it."
Mack is trying to make the best of the situation. She thinks there's no reason, outside of the law of course, to hand count the ballots.
Unlike Washington, Hennepin and many other counties, Beltrami is not paying election judges to help with the recount.
"We really are on a tight, tight budget, so we're asking for volunteers," Mack said.
Mack will be pulling out her "2008 Recount Soup" recipe (see below). She said the food kept the volunteers and even the partisan observers in good spirits and she's hoping for the same this time around.
"[It is] some awesome good Italian sausage soup with beans and I'm making it again," she said.
But Mack might want to hold off on getting the soup on the stove. She and the other county election officials might not begin their hand recount next week if the Minnesota Supreme Court or the State Canvassing Board delays the process to address GOP concerns.
From Beltrami County Auditor-Treasurer Kay Mack:
Count Beltrami Recount Soup
The soup is aptly named after the Italian Count for which Beltrami County was named. Count Giacomo Constantino Beltrami, an Italian explorer, passed through the county which now bears his name in 1923.
1 lb. ground Italian sausage. Use hot or mild, depending on your taste. I use 1/2 of each.
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
3 leaves fresh basil
1 can 15 oz. butter beans
1 can 15 oz black beans
(beans may be substituted with beans of your choice)
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 cups beef broth
Grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
Cook sausage until done, add garlic and basil. Saute 4 minutes.
Add beans, tomato, broth. Cover and simmer 10 - 15 minutes, then remove from heat.
Serve in bowls with Italian bread or garlic bread or Panini. Sprinkle with cheese.