Recount beings in Olmsted County
By Matthew Stolle
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
A historic recount of ballots cast in the U.S. Senate contest between Norm Coleman and Al Franken is under way.
Election officials began counting the 76,000 ballots cast in Olmsted County at 8:14 a.m. today and were expected to work well into the evening. Altogether, 44 counties and cities began their recounts today.
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 state Canvassing Board probably won’t be known until several weeks afterwards.
Thirteen three-person teams of counters sat at tables at the Mayo Civic Center Grand Ballroom, sorting ballots into piles. An observer from each campaign monitored the counting at each table. A ballot challenged by one of the observers as ambiguous or unclear was placed in a "challenged" pile.
The fate of those ballots — and the election itself — will eventually rest with the Canvassing Board, which may begin reviewing challenged ballots on Dec. 16.
Despite having until Dec. 5 to complete the recount, Olmsted was among a handful of counties and cities to kick off the process at the earliest possible time.
The Canvassing Board ordered the recount Tuesday, but the action was largely a formality when Coleman’s margin over Franken — now at 215 votes — fell within the one-half of 1 percent of total votes cast that triggers an automatic recount.
Board members also delayed decision on rejected absentee ballots that the Franken camp has pressed to have included in the final tally. Board members said they wanted more time to consider arguments over the ballots, but didn’t give a specific date for issuing its ruling.
More than 45 volunteers from each campaign had signed up to serve as observers during the recount in Olmsted County. The Coleman campaign planned to run three shifts of volunteers over the course of the day, said Linda Kopecky, a Rochester resident and Coleman volunteer organizer.
Julie Petrich, a Rochester sales representative for a nutrition company, agreed to "burn" some vacation time to volunteer as an observer for the Coleman camp. Before the recount started, Petrich said she was both nervous and excited to be part of a history-making election. The mother of four also said she wanted to do her part to ensure the integrity of the process.
"I want to be party of making sure that the process is done properly," Petrich said. "I’m just trying to do my part as a good American."
Volunteers for the Franken campaign were under instructions not to the speak to the media.
Ballots clearly marked for either Franken or Coleman were placed into two piles, while a third was set aside for ballots cast for Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley and other candidates.