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County auditor thaws political tensions with lunch

Recounting political ballots can be stressful, but Beltrami County Auditor Kay Mack found Count Beltrami Recount Soup was a huge hit among election officials and party representatives. From left are Beltrami County employees, Leala Roth, Mack, Lisa Carlson and Diane Moe. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Beltrami County Auditor-Treasurer Kay Mack has received state and national attention for her novel response to election recounts.

She serves recount officials and vote challengers soup - namely, her famous Count Beltrami Recount Soup.

"I made the soup for the 2008 U.S. Senate recount and invited everyone there to have lunch," Mack said. "That included the DFL and IR (Republican) challengers as well as their legal teams and all of my recount officials."

The Nov. 4, 2008, election between DFLer Al Franken challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman resulted in Coleman leading by 215 votes when all the ballots were tallied. That slim apparent victory led to a mandatory recount. The close vote also resulted in serious tensions as the recount and legal challenges dragged through winter and spring. Franken was eventually declared the winner and sworn as Minnesota's junior senator July 7, 2009.

The recount tensions included Beltrami County, but Mack's response helped reduce the strains.

"The simple gesture of providing lunch really seemed to lighten the air in the room," she said. "And when we were done, I had some rave reviews for the soup."

Mack said when it was apparent that there would be recount again this year in the governor's race between Republican Tom Emmer and DFLer Mark Dayton, she decided to again treat everyone to some home-made soup.

"Only I went a step further and gave the soup a name," Mack said. "A very appropriate name came to mind for a couple of reasons. The ingredient that makes the soup so good is the Italian sausage. And wouldn't you know that Beltrami County is named after an Italian count that explored in the area in 1823."

Giacomo Constantino Beltrami, like several other explorers at the time, was searching for the source of the Mississippi River. He erroneously decided it was a lake near what is now Buena Vista. He named the lake after his girlfriend, Julia, whom he had left behind in Italy.

Henry Schoolcraft became the successful "discoverer" of the Headwaters of the Mississippi by asking an Ojibwe friend, Ozawindib, who, like most the local people, knew exactly where the Misi-ziibi (Great River) or Gichi-ziibi (Big River) started and showed Schoolcraft a shortcut by canoe up what is now the Schoolcraft River.

"And to further fit into the theme, we would be gathering many 'bean counters," as accountant type people are often called, and the soup has some wonderful beans," Mack said of rechristening Italian Sausage and Bean Soup in honor of Beltrami.

Mack's spin on recount management earned her attention from Minnesota Public Radio, the Star-Tribune and The Economist magazine.

"While the close elections and the subsequent recounts are serious business, it has been fun to add some local flair and levity into the situation," Mack said. " Doing things like this makes a statement about northern Minnesota hospitality, and it also makes a statement about us being as hearty as our soup".

Although election officials certainly don't look forward to close election requiring recounts, Mack said they offer opportunities to show the public the veracity and accuracy of the system.

"And it gave Beltrami County a chance to show how we can turn a frustrating issue into an opportunity to shine. - turn a lemon into lemonade, or shall we say, some ballot counting in to bean counting - and bean cuisine," Mack said.

Count Beltrami Recount Soup

(Mack made a times-six batch for the recount crew.)

1 lb. ground Italian sausage - hot, mild or a mix.

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

3 leaves fresh basil

1 15-oz. can butter beans

1 15-oz can black beans

1-15 oz can diced tomatoes

2 cups beef broth

Grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Cook sausage until done, add garlic and basil. Sauté 4 minutes.

Add beans, tomatoes, broth. Cover and simmer 10-15 minutes.

Sprinkle with cheese.

Serve with Italian or garlic bread or Panini.