BEMIDJI -- Democratic-Farmer-Labor party candidate John Persell’s eight-vote lead in the race for Minnesota House District 5A grew by three votes Monday, with results from a recount confirming the DFLer’s win.

After voters were counted on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, Persell, a 68-year-old environmental policy analyst for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and rural Bemidji resident, held an eight-vote lead over incumbent Republican Rep. Matt Bliss, a 54-year-old resort owner of Pennington. With all precincts reporting, Persell held an 8,452-8,444 lead over Bliss.

John Persell
John Persell

In the weeks that followed, Bliss submitted a request for a publicly funded recount with the Minnesota Secretary of State office. Minnesota doesn’t have an automatic recount function, but rather has recounts by request. In a state legislative race, if there’s a margin of 0.5 percent or less, a publicly funded recount is available.

That recount, overseen by Beltrami County Auditor/Treasurer JoDee Treat, took place Monday and lasted about five hours. In total, Treat said 16,897 ballots were counted, with Persell earning 8,454 and Bliss receiving 8,443, for an 11-vote margin.

“It went really well,” Treat said Tuesday. “Cass and Itasca (counties) brought their ballots over in the morning so we counted those first, and then we counted Hubbard and Beltrami after that. We had eight teams working and many appointed observers by the two candidates, and it went smoothly.”

As to why the vote totals changed, Treat said the machines are very sensitive and if a ballot has an oval filled in, along with an accidental mark somewhere, the system will count it as an over vote for more than one candidate.

According to Treat, there was just one ballot challenged in the recounting process.

“This particular one had an oval filled in for one of the candidates, and then the oval for a write-in was circled as well, with no name written in,” Treat said. “The candidate whose name was circled in was saying that it was a vote for them and that the write-in was just an error. The other candidate was saying that it was an over vote.”

Matt Bliss
Matt Bliss

Treat said the challenged ballot, and the results from the recount, will be sent to the Secretary of State’s office for review by the canvassing board on Dec. 17.

Persell’s win means he will return to the Legislature for a fifth term in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Persell previously served District 4A from 2009-2012 and District 5A from 2013-2016, before he was defeated by Bliss in the 2016 election.

“It looks like John picked up more votes and he won the election,” Bliss said. “I gave him a call last night and talked to him a little bit. I told him I would forward some of the projects I was working on and that I hope he can carry them forward. They’re non-partisan projects so I think he might carry them.”

Attempts to reach Persell were unsuccessful Tuesday.