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Minnesota recount (the last one) was relatively inexpensive, Pew study finds

A study of recount costs in Minnesota (2008) and Washington state (2004) shows we kept the costs down and got a relatively good deal in the lengthy process that ended with Al Franken being seated as a U.S. senator.

Minnesota’s costs were about 15 cents per ballot, compared with 30 cents in Washington.

The study by the Pew Center doesn’t address whether the recount was handled correctly — and there are still some who will argue about that, despite overwhelming national sentiment that it was — but determined that the Minnesota Senate recount cost state counties about $446,000.

By contrast, the 2004 recount in the Washington governor’s race cost counties there $1.16 million, more than double Minnesota’s cost. In Minnesota, 2.92 million ballots were cast; in Washington there were 2.88 million.

Final margins of victory: 312 in Minnesota; 133 in Washington.

Says the report:

In Minnesota, the study estimates that the state’s 87 counties spent, on average, more than 15 cents per ballot on the manual recount, with total costs surpassing $460,000. In Washington’s gubernatorial race, the state’s manual recount cost 39 counties an average of more than 30 cents per ballot, with total costs just over $900,000. Washington counties also spent more than $260,000 to conduct an initial machine recount, increasing total recount costs for local jurisdictions to over $1.16 million.

In both states, the recounts were triggered automatically by the close margins, and most of the costs involved labor for manually counting the ballots.

Absentee ballots were a sticking point in both recounts, and both lasted about seven months, the report said.

So why the big difference in costs? The report says state laws differ a bit, and Washington essentially had two recounts, a machine re-tabulation, followed by a hand count.

And in Washington’s populous King County, cost per ballot soared to 60 cents because of “labor-intensive processes, including presorting ballots, coupled with redundant manual tally procedures over a two-week period, spiked recount staffing costs. High costs associated with security and the need to lease a large facility to conduct the recount also contributed to the escalation of expenses,” the report said.

The report, which was prepared to help other states consider the factors that control costs in recounts, notes that using permanent staff for the recounts is more expensive than using temp help.

State laws that define recount procedures also keep costs down. The report notes Minnesota’s law that “designates responsibility for conducting statewide recounts to the Secretary of State who appoints a five-member State Canvassing Board as arbiter. Rather than transporting 2.9 million ballots to the Secretary of State’s office to recount, the Secretary deputizing county auditors in the 87 counties to carry out the manual tally.”

And in Minnesota, disputes were streamlined, and less costly, because challenged ballots were sent to the State Canvassing Board, while in Washington, the “time-consuming and often contentious process” of disputed ballots stayed at the county level.

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