Franken campaign spars with Mower County auditor

By Tim Ruzek

Post-Bulletin, Austin MN

Mower County’s recount of the U.S. Senate election grew heated at times Monday, including complaints sent to the state about the county auditor overseeing the process.

Recounting efforts Monday in the Mower County Board room led to three fewer votes for Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and two fewer for Democratic challenger Al Franken, according to figures with the state. Overall, 14 ballots are being challenged — eight by the Franken campaign and six by Coleman officials.

County election officials had to recount 19,302 ballots cast in the Nov. 4 election.


Controversy started early into Monday’s count when a Franken campaign official challenged a ballot.

Franken representatives sent a complaint Monday morning to the Secretary of State’s office about how Mower County Auditor-Treasurer Doug Groh handled the challenge.

Groh allegedly stopped the count for an "opportunity to berate challengers and has stated his belief that he, and not the state Canvassing Board, should be making final determinations on these ballots," according to the Franken e-mail sent to state officials.

Groh allegedly required the challenger to explain to the room the challenge’s rationale and required her to read the rules aloud.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann, who read the e-mail to a reporter, said he received the complaint about 10 a.m. Monday and immediately called Groh.

Groh acknowledged most of what was stated in the complaint, except for the accusation that he believed he should make final ballot decisions, Gelbmann said. Groh told him he wanted to create a learning experience about ballot challenges for everyone in the room and that he didn’t intend to embarrass the woman.

County officials may use persuasion to explain to a candidate representative why they don’t believe a challenge is legitimate because the law says there shouldn’t be frivolous challenges, Gelbmann said.

A candidate rep, he said, has the final say on whether to send a challenge to the state Canvassing Board, which will convene Dec. 16.


Groh this morning disputed the allegations.

"I didn’t have her say anything. I was talking to the audience," Groh said.

The woman told him she didn’t know what she was doing, Groh said, so he discussed the ballot and voter intent with the audience.

Groh said he "was not berating. I was four feet from her, gave an example of a ballot, went through the ballot with all to see and gave my opinion for all as a training point."

Groh said he’s not responsible for who the campaigns put in those positions and he didn’t appreciate the Franken campaign’s tactics.

"The Franken campaign, in my opinion, wanted to control that recount on behalf of their candidate," Groh said.

Gelbmann said he thinks Groh learned "there probably was a better way to handle the situation and he did definitely regret causing embarrassment or humiliation to the individual."

Mower County recount


Nov. 4 vote — 9,090 for Democrat Al Franken; 6,839 for Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

Recount tally — 9,088 for Franken; 6,836 for Coleman; 3,367 other ballots.

Challenges — Eight ballots by Franken campaign; six by Coleman campaign.

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