Counties feel pressure in Senate recount

Associated Press

ST. PAUL — The U.S. Senate scoreboard in Minnesota will start at zero.

One by one, election workers at dozens of sites will sort through 2,920,180 ballots while building piles for Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken. A separate stack of disputed ballots will fall to a state board for a final ruling.

By the end of the tedious recount process — set to begin Wednesday and extend well into December — the campaigns and the public will at least know who got the most votes, even if litigation causes the battle to drag on.

Coleman holds a narrow lead over Franken.


Minnesota’s race looms large in the broader Washington power struggle. Depending on undecided contests in Alaska and Georgia, the Minnesota outcome could determine if Democrats attain a 60-seat majority that would enable them to overcome Republican filibusters.

The high stakes are creating high anxiety.

"We’re just as scared as the campaigns are," said Patty O’Connor, elections director in Blue Earth County. "We want to make sure everything is how it’s supposed to be. The stress levels are a little high."

On Thursday, the secretary of state’s office held a 90-minute online training session for the county workers who will execute the first stage of the recount. They asked about everything from how close campaign lawyers could stand to the ballot counters to how they should protect ballots during lunch breaks. (They were told they’ll be nice and cozy, and to have someone guard the ballots at all times.)

The recount will play out in city halls, courthouses and, in one case, a civic center usually home to concerts and sporting events.

County election officials are building ballot review teams of polling place judges, school clerks and their own staff to man multiple recount tables at most places.

Pam Fuller, Olmsted County’s election chief, reserved the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester so she can have several teams going over 85,000 ballots. The ballots will be brought from their current location via law enforcement van.

During the training session, state elections director Gary Poser drilled down to the most minor details in hopes of ensuring a smooth process. He suggested counties post sign-in sheets, provide nametags at the counting sites and arrange adequate parking. He told them to make sure that the candidates’ representatives had credentials from their respective campaigns.


Poser’s office has also distributed a recount manual that gives step-by-step instructions and even delves into decorum.

"Always appear in control of yourself and the situation (despite a little natural nervousness)," one part reads.

The manual stresses that "no one else touches the ballots" besides recount officials.

Elections officials had a dry run this fall when a state Supreme Court primary fell within the automatic recount window. But that recount involved far fewer ballots, about 400,000, and there were no official challenges.

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