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Mower County election officials hand-count ballots today

By Tim Ruzek

Post-Bulletin, Austin MN

Yellow tape stating "Sheriff Line Do Not Cross" divided the Mower County Board’s room this morning.

Strung across the room, the tape separated the audience from the four tables of election judges who began a hand-count of 19,302 ballots cast in Mower County for the Nov. 4 general election.

The effort is part of the statewide recount started last week for the U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken. As of late Saturday, Coleman had a 180-vote lead over Franken. With 68 percent of 2.9 million ballots counted, Coleman’s grew from a 120-vote lead Friday. Some of those votes might be attributed to the increased number of Franken ballots challenged by Coleman's campaign, which removes those ballots from the count, officials said.

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In the recent election, Mower County residents cast 9,090 votes for Franken and 6,839 for Coleman, about 49 percent to 36 percent. Independent candidate Dean Barkley received 2,859 votes, or 15 percent.

Doug Groh, the county’s auditor and treasurer, read directions and led the room in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before starting the recount about 8:40 a.m.

Election officials started with the county’s smallest precincts for the process. Groh said he hopes the recount will be done by 6 p.m. today. If not, Groh has said he expects the recount would be restarted Dec. 1.

This morning, each of the four tables had three election judges on one side and two observers facing them — one from each campaign.

More than 20 people, including Franken and Coleman observers as well as non-partisan watchers, gathered in the audience before the start of the recount.

Kristine Allas, of Lansing, was observing on behalf of Voter Integrity, a non-partisan national organization. The group watches to ensure voter rights are respected and the recount is done correctly, she said.

Observers from both campaigns already supervised the Austin mayoral recount earlier this month.

The fate of the ballots and the election itself eventually will rest with the state Canvassing Board, which is scheduled to begin reviewing challenged ballots on Dec. 16.

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Cities and counties have until Dec. 5 to complete their recounts and report their results to the Secretary of State’s office, which intends to post the results on its Web site. A final verdict of the contest by the Canvassing Board probably won’t be known until several weeks afterward.

For more information, go to Postbulletin.com/weblinks.

U.S. Senate recount totals http://electionresults.sos.state.mn.us/20081104/

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