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Election concerns linger for Olmsted County group

Elections staff provided an update on the balloting process and safeguards to address questions raised by Olmsted County Elections Integrity Group members, who left before the presentation.

Olmsted County board 090622.jpg
Stewartville resident Roger Mueller speaks Tuesday morning, Sept. 6, 2022 to the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners, raising concerns from the Olmsted County Elections Integrity Group.
Randy Petersen / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — A group of Olmsted County residents continue to seek answers related to a lack of trust in the election process.

Members of the Olmsted County Elections Integrity Group returned to county commissioners Tuesday morning to say their concerns linger.

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Stewartville resident Roger Mueller, who serves as chairman of the group, said they’ve arranged to channel future concerns through County Board Chairman Mark Thein.

“The team does look forward to working with you and resolving these issues one way or another,” he told commissioners during Tuesday’s open comment period ahead of the commissioners’ regular meeting.

He said the group will present proposed county measures to address the concerns being raised.


Thein said he requested future questions be sent to him to streamline the process for response, noting that commissioners have received multiple emails since the group raised its initial concerns during an Aug. 16 meeting .

“We’ll see how it goes,” Thein said of the proposed communication with the group, adding that he’s requested to address one issue at a time.

In August, the group largely focused on speculation that the ballots counted in 2020 outnumbered Olmsted County’s eligible voters, but a letter from County Administrator Heidi Welsch pointed out the concern appeared to be linked to a misreading of data from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office.

The issue wasn’t specifically raised Tuesday, with Mueller pointing out the 22 months the county needed to hold the 2020 ballots has passed.

However, group members raised specific concerns about recent alleged miscounts in the state of Georgia, as well as Winona, Wabasha and Rice counties concerns, which included alleged errors on ballots and a lack of available ballots.

Rochester resident Karin Charron said local complaints have been submitted in writing.

“Roger Mueller personally delivered six election complaints to the county attorney’s front desk area,” she said, alleging one voter was handed a ballot with one side already completed during the recent primary election. “One additional complaint was made by the person making the complaint.”

Last month, Rochester resident Helen Knight also questioned the actions of an election judge, which she said would be a topic of a complaint to the county attorney.


County Attorney Mark Ostrem said any complaints received by his office are investigated and sent to the appropriate agency for action, which could be the Secretary of State’s Office or local law enforcement, if warranted.

“We look at each one of these, and it takes a little bit of time to discern where it should go,” he said.

Several of the issues raised Tuesday – including allegations of inaccurate ballots and insufficient ballots in other counties – were addressed during an update from county election staff, who pointed out they are in the process of reviewing the accuracy of ballots for the Nov. 8 general election.

Voters check in with election officials before voting in a primary election Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, at Mayo High School in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Mary Blair-Hoeft, the county’s Property Records and Licensing director, said 3,750 Olmsted County residents have already requested absentee ballots, which will be mailed starting Sept. 23, when absentee voting begins.

Meanwhile, Olmsted County Elections Manager Luke Turner said work continues in planning for the general election as rosters of registered voters are updated and the county’s ballot board of local residents is readied.

“This is a key step in election integrity,” he said of the board that includes four people from each of the state’s two major political parties, who are tasked with reviewing the validity of absentee ballots.

Additionally, he pointed out that voting machines and test ballots go through hundreds of hours of local testing prior to an election, and Election Day results are reviewed on several levels before they become official.

Following the general election, he said a hand count of randomly selected precincts is used to double check the accuracy of the voting machines.


“If there were an error, we would have to count more and more, and eventually it could potentially require us to recount the entire race,” he said. “If there are discrepancies, it would trigger more steps.”

Commissioner Jim Bier said he was disappointed that most of the 30 or so members of the Olmsted County Elections Integrity Group — including the four members who addressed the commissioners — opted to leave the meeting before the election staff’s report.

“They might have learned something about the process,” he said. “I find it funny.”

Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden said the county has invested in extra staff to safeguard election results, but that doesn’t necessarily address all potential concerns.

“It seems to me that we have a lot of provisions in place, but there is still human error and there is still interpretation people make when they are worried or when they’re highly alert,” she said, pointing out that having approximately 1,500 election judges leaves room for questions to be raised.

With that, she said commissioners have faith that the process is working.

Commissioner Ken Brown agreed.

“There’s a human-error component in everything we do, so we do the best we can,” he said, adding that he has seen nothing that points to a reason to question local election.

What happened: Olmsted County commissioners received an update regarding election practices.

Why does this matter: A group of county residents have raised concerns about election integrity.

What's next: County Board Chairman Mark Thein has agreed to work with the group to address concerns about the county's election operations.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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