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Dayton 1 vote over Emmer in Beltrami County recount

Election officials Sherry Wyman, left, and JoDee Treat work on recounting ballots from Bemidji's Ward 1 Monday morning under the watchful eyes of representatives from Mark Dayton's and Tom Emmer's gubernatorial campaigns. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Democrat gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton netted one additional Beltrami County vote in a recount of ballots Monday.

The recount results also had two challenged ballots for Republican Tom Emmer that will be decided by the State Canvassing Board in St. Paul next week.

The recount, which began at 9 a.m. and concluded at 2 p.m., had counting or machine errors giving two votes to Dayton and taking one away from Emmer, and two votes for Emmer which were decided by County Auditor/Treasurer Kay Mack. They were challenged by Dayton observers.

On Election Day, Dayton polled 7,526 votes while Emmer ended with 6,531 votes. After Monday's recount, the Beltrami total has 7,528 votes for Dayton and 6,532 for Emmer, including the two challenged ballots for Emmer.

"Overall, I was really impressed with how well the process went, how good our teams were, how good the parties were," Mack said. "It was great, and I'm glad it was done early."

Based on the 2008 recount in the U.S. Senate race, Mack had anticipated a 3:30 p.m. end, not the 2 p.m. end that was realized. Five teams of four people each counted 16,187 ballots -- about 6,100 less than in 2008.

Two staff or volunteers actually handled the ballots, while DFL and Republican observers kept their distance but were able to offer challenges.

The challenges came over machine-counted over votes, meaning more than one caididate was voted on, voiding that race. Mack ruled that in both cases, voters blackened out one candidate and then "X'd" it out, filling in the Emmer oval.

Dayton observers then challenged the ballots.

In one case, in Hagali Township, the vote was for Independence Party candidate Tom Horner and that had been "X'd" out, Mack said, adding that Emmer had a filled in oval.

"Based on the fact that no other races on that ballot had an X over the oval, I determined that the voter intended to vote for Emmer," Mack said. "We added it to the Emmer numbers. The Dayton people have challenged the ballot."

The same occurred in one of Northern Township's two precincts.

Maple Ridge Township had two additional votes for Dayton.

"These ballots had been sorted to the wrong place on election night and had not been tabulated," Mack said. "It was not discovered until we were packing up the election at 2 a.m. and I decided to not set the equipment up again for those two ballots.

"We could have chosen to reconvene the Canvass Board in order to add those votes, but knew that a recount was declared and that the votes would get counted in the recount," Mack added. "In short, in talking it through with Tim Faver, the county attorney, we did not see it being a good use of taxpayers dollars to reconvene when the count would get corrected during this process."

In the other Northern Township precinct, one vote was taken away from Emmer totals,l she said. The total number of ballots balanced against what the machine had, but counters found one less Emmer vote than the machine had.

"Very likely the machine was reading some stray mark as an Emmer vote," Mack said. The ballot was not challenged.

"We didn't have some of the issues as before," Mack said of the 2008 recount. "The Secretary of State's Office made it more clear what the point of this day was."

For instance, there was no pulling of duplicate ballot envelopes to make sure they had been duplicated properly, that being left for an election contest in the courts. Also, ballots couldn't be inspected to see if election judges' names were on the ballot.

"There were things like that, that didn't happen this time that maybe did or could have happened last time," Mack said.

Also, absentee ballots were not an issue this time. Those ballots, originally counted by the county, was merged with each precinct and counted with the rest.

"We only had eight last time, so I guess I'm not all that surprised," she said of the two challenged ballots. "It's small proportionately than it was last time."

As the recount started statewide on Monday, Dayton held an 8,770 vote margin over Emmer with 2.1 million ballots cast. Counties have until Dec. 9 to finish their counts, and the State Canvassing Board will certify a winner on Dec. 14.

Both sides then have 10 days in which to file an election contest against the certified results.