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Reporting delays seen with record absentee ballots, added write-ins

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Election technicians Marissa Carlson, left, and Judy Giese, right, count write-in votes by hand Wednesday afternoon at the Olmsted County elections office in Rochester.
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A larger-than-usual number of write-in votes contributed to delays in reporting Olmsted County’s election results Tuesday night.

Heather Bestler, the county’s property tax and elections manager, said manually counting more than the typical number of write-in votes at the polling sites added time for election judges after polls closed.

"That takes a long time," she said. "For local races, for the city and schools, they have to count every write-in for every race."

She said outside of higher numbers, no trends were immediately seen as the write-in ballots were processed.

The added time meant the first election judges reported to the county’s election office shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday, which was later than usual.

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The first tallies were reported to the state by 10 p.m.

In Mower County, delays brought results much later, holding up the final verdict in the 1st District Congressional race until Wednesday morning.

Steven Reinartz, the county’s auditor-treasurer, said the delay was due to a combination of issues.

A computer glitch caused problems in downloading the results to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website, but he said voters in precincts that received mailed ballots for the first time also contributed to some late results.

Non-metropolitan townships and cities with fewer than 400 registered voters can choose to hold elections by mail, rather than opening polling places. This year, Mower County has 13 precincts using the option, up from three in 2016.

Reinartz said some voters in those precincts misplaced their ballots or attempted to go to their former polling places. They were directed to go to the county office to vote.

As a result, the office saw more than 100 voters on Election Day, some arriving near closing time.

"We had people still here at 8 p.m., when the polls were closing," he said.

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With 14,603 ballots cast in Mower County, Reinartz said 3,921 were either absentee or mailed ballots, which added to the time needed for processing.

"You want to get your numbers to reconcile right," he said.

In Olmsted County, Bestler expressed the same need for taking time to ensure counts were done properly, especially with a high number of absentee ballots turned in on Election Day.

The office received 527 absentee ballots between the time the office closed Monday and 3:30 p.m. deadline on Tuesday, bringing the total to a record-breaking 17,487 absentee ballots for the election.

The total absentee ballots accounted for more than 24 percent of the total 71,592 Olmsted County ballots cast in the election.

Olmsted County turnout was down from the 80,736 voters seen in the last presidential election, but up by more than 20,000 from the midterm election in 2014.

Bestler said the percentage of voter turnout for Olmsted County will be known next week when final processing of Election Day registrations is complete. In addition to the increase in absentee voting, she said Olmsted County election judges reported an uptick in registration at the polls.

"We had quite a few precincts asking for more registration forms," she said.

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"I Voted," Nov. 7, 2018, Rochester, Minn.

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