Buhl votes delayed after counters forget to call
BUHL, Minn. — Elections and campaign officials waited and waited into Wednesday for a final tally of votes in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race.
In northeastern Minnesota, the town of Buhl’s ballots had been cast but not counted in statewide totals. It turns out election officials there counted the votes but never called them in.
St. Louis County Director of Elections Paul Tynjala said officials tried to call Buhl for the results, but everyone had already gone home. He calls the incident a "goof-up" in which someone thought someone else had already called in the votes.
Buhl finally reported its results at 8 a.m. Wednesday. And the results still didn’t clarify the winner between Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.
Mary Markas, one of Buhl’s election judges, explained what happened. She said local election workers had just begun counting ballots Tuesday when the announcement was made that Barack Obama had won.
"The hand counting had just started and they already announced Obama was president and that’s kind of demoralizing," she said. "We felt bad about that because we wondered if our votes even counted."
Nonetheless, Markas said the Buhl votes were counted. She and others called a few media outlets and a couple of candidates with the results. Then they went home, without phoning the results into the county, which passes them to the state.
By early Wednesday morning, with Coleman ahead by less than 1,000 votes, all eyes turned to Buhl. "It just goes to show that when you think your vote doesn’t count, it does count," said Markas.
Election official Mike Buchanan said that when Buhl election officials arrived a work at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, "we received a phone call from St. Louis County — they wanted our election numbers."
They got them.
Coleman received 152 votes in Buhl and Franken got 343, for a difference of 191 in the Democratic candidate’s favor. Not enough to change the results, but enough to tighten the contest even more.
"If you think about it, what if Al Franken had been behind by 190 votes?" Markas said. "The Buhl votes would have won him the election."