Governor’s recount: a tale of one diligent county auditor’s search for one missing vote

One vote was missing. Wayne Stein couldn’t bear it.

Otter Tail County
Wikipedia Commons
Otter Tail County

Out of 25,178 votes cast on Election Day, a lone ballot was absent when the good folks in Otter Tail County concluded their governor’s recount Monday. The recounted piles for DFLer Mark Dayton, Republican Tom Emmer, “others” and challenges added up to 25,177.

The ballot seemingly gone poof was from Sverdrup Township, in which 289 votes were recounted, but 290 were cast on Nov. 2.

More maddening was this: The recount for the two major candidates produced the same results as the election machines: 147 for Emmer, 114 for Dayton. But the “others” pile was off by one.

So, the shortage would have no effect on the outcome of the governor’s race.

Still, it gnawed at Stein, Otter Tail County’s auditor for the past 20 years, an accountant by profession, a former staffer under former State Auditor Arne Carlson. It bothered him big-time.

“I take it kind of personal,” Stein said of the discrepancy. “It’s just my personality.”

He sent two staffers to the ballot storage room to search for a possible wayward sealed envelope. Perhaps one ballot had been put in an envelope by itself. The staffers found nothing.

Stein perused the incident log from the Sverdrup precinct. Zippo.

He called an election judge on site in that precinct on Election Day. She had no explanation.


Stein had one more idea. Maybe the ballot got stuck in the voting machine. There were three possible compartments for the thin cardboard ballot to get hung up in. He dispatched another staffer to drive out to meet a Sverdrup Township official to examine the machine and its various boxes. He gave them an envelope to seal it in, just in case.

Lo and behold, just like a piece of paper that can get stuck in a copying machine, the lonely ballot was discovered.

As if a valuable piece of moon rock, the ballot was placed in that envelope, sealed and secured Tuesday in the county’s ballot warehouse.

Stein then sent a detailed four-page email today to the candidates’ lawyers in the Twin Cities, explaining the scenario and the solution.

Why such an effort for one ballot that would mean nothing to the bottom line of the race in question?

“I think in Otter Tail County we work really, really hard to do the elections process right,” he said in an interview from his Fergus Falls office. “I’m not going to say we’re perfect and I don’t make mistakes. But we try really, really hard. So, when something like this happens, I want to know why. I want to know where the deficiency is, so I can fix it for the future.”

Stein has organized the opening of the envelope and the counting of the single missing-and-now-found ballot to take place at 8:30 a.m. Friday morning. Two election judges will sit at a table. He has invited representatives from the Emmer and Dayton campaigns to watch. The ballot will be examined and counted.

Soon after, Wayne Stein, county auditor extraordinaire, will send in an amended recount report to the Secretary of State’s Office. His hunt and gather will be accomplished. He can go home without a care to, presumably, a very neat house.

“It’s probably not neat,” Stein said to be exact. “But I do know where everything is.”

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 12/01/2010 - 05:09 pm.

    Hats off to a valiant, conscientious, and dedicated public servant. Bravo, Mr. Stein!

  2. Submitted by Peggy Huss on 12/01/2010 - 07:20 pm.

    Thanks Jay – this story really put a smile on my face! And, it again speaks to the incredible diligence our election officials show in managing our elections. Bravo to Ottertail County.

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