Midday at the recount: In Hastings, ballot challenges are few and far between

Elections judges sorting ballots in Shakopee.
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
Elections judges sorting ballots in Shakopee.

Now, we’re in the basement of the Dakota County Administration Center, in the room where election machines are normally stored. Instead, as lunch time approaches, Minnesota’s own once-every-two-year “recount machine” is buzzing away in a room with exposed pipes, patched drywall and 10 tables.

In Hastings, the counting of the ballots has begun. The way it works in all the counting places is this: Election judges sort the ballots in piles: a Dayton pile, an Emmer pile, an “others” pile.

There is also a spot for challenged ballots. On most tables in Hastings that spot is empty. Challenges are few and far between.

After that sorting has occurred for a precinct, then the counting begins. When that happens, each candidate is allowed to deploy two observers. So the tables get a little bit crowded.

Fact is, if you wandered in not knowing what was going on, it would look like a poker room; quiet tables, six people around them, people dealing out ballots.

Except some of the players — the Dayton observers — are armed with clipboards to keep track of the count at the table.

In most cases, when judges count out 25 ballots, they lay them on the table, and then count 25 more. They cross-hatch them onto the pile to identify each set of 25. And the counting goes on.

During the course of observing for about a half hour, only a few challenges were made. Dakota County election officials are beckoned to the table for the disputed ballot, and explanations are made.

In two cases, Emmer observers challenged ballots with write-in votes. But if a write-in name is penned in the allocated spot, there’s no legal reason to challenge it, they were told. In one case, the Emmer observer said he still wanted to register a challenge.

But Kevin Boyle, Dakota County’s elections manager, said there has been no comparison to the number of challenges this time to the 2008 U.S. Senate recount.

“Oh, 10 times as many,” he said of the Franken-Coleman tussle.

Boyle is expecting his county to need through Thursday for completion. But by the time the Dayton and Emmer volunteers dug into their Jimmy John’s sandwiches and chips or Bruegger’s bagels and cream cheese at noon, the Dayton recount office had Tweeted that recounts in Cook, Hubbard, Mahnomen, Rock, Wilkin, Lincoln and Red Lake counties were already completed.

So far, this reporter has neither observed or heard of any food fights. But, apparently, there are reports of some excessive challenging in Carver and Hennepin counties. Here’s a Star Tribune report

On to Ramsey County.

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