Odd write-in issue surfaces as St. Cloud House recount nears

The lawyer for DFL candidate Carol Lewis told the State Canvassing Board Tuesday about an oddity that election judges will confront when they begin Monday’s recount in House District 15B recount.

We just wrote about the 10-vote lead that Republican King Banaian holds over Lewis in the state’s closest legislative race in St. Cloud.

But Alan Weinblatt, the veteran DFL recount lawyer from St. Paul, sought a clarification from the Canvassing Board. He told the panel that “a number” of voters in the district — which includes precincts in Stearns, Sherburne and Benton counties — wrote in for either Banaian or Lewis, even though their names were already on the ballot.

Seems folks simply skipped over the printed names and wanted to write them in themselves.

As you might have guessed, there’s a law that makes that a certain kind of no-no.

State election law, 204B.09, Subdivision 3, says, in part: “A candidate for county, state, or federal office who wants write-in votes for the candidate to be counted must file a written request” with the secretary of state.

Weinblatt told the board that he had heard that some election judges — specifically in Sherburne County — were declining to count write-in ballots for either Lewis or Banaian.

Why? Because write-in candidates have to make that proactive request.

Hmmm. Why would Lewis or Banaian request that write-in votes for them be counted when they’re already on the ballot?

Weinblatt sought a clarification and the board, without voting, agreed via consensus and head nods that whether an oval was filled next to either of the candidates’ names or their names were written in, the voter’s intent is what should prevail.

Thus, statute be damned, a write-in for either should be counted. If it’s not, board members indicated a challenge would be appropriate.

There were only three write-in votes in Sherburne County, but, of course, when the margin is 10, every vote counts.

The strange voting method baffled Canvassing Board member Denise Reilly, the Hennepin County District Court judge and a member of the three-judge panel in the Al Franken-Norm Coleman 2008 Senate recount. But it didn’t surprise her, given all the offbeat ballots she saw during the post-recount election contest trial last year.

It led Reilly to quote her trial colleague, Stearns County District Court Judge Elizabeth Hayden, now retired.

“You can’t save people from themselves,” Reilly said.

It’s just a fact that some voters do the strangest things.

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