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Post-election hand counts find no issues with Minn. ballot-counting machines

Counties are required by law to hand-count ballots in a few randomly chosen precincts after the election.

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Ben MacKenzie casts his voting ballot with his daughter Owen Mackenzie on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in St. Paul.
Kerem Yücel / MPR News
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BRAINERD — Post-election hand counts of ballots that Minnesota counties are required to conduct did not uncover problems with vote-counting machines.

Counties are required by law to hand-count ballots in a few randomly chosen precincts after the election. During the hand count, election judges make sure their tallies match those recorded by vote-tabulating machines used on Election Day.

Minnesota counties have been conducting post-election reviews since the 2006 election, said David Maeda, director of elections for the Minnesota secretary of state’s office. The number of precincts they audit depends on the number of registered voters in the county.

“When the law was written, we really did try to find a sweet spot between creating a lot of extra work for the counties after the election, but counting enough ballots where any issues would be caught,” Maeda said.

After local residents and outside activists raised questions about the accuracy of vote-tabulating machines and called for more election transparency, some Minnesota counties decided to count more precincts or races than required.

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On Nov. 21, Crow Wing County hand-counted ballots from four precincts, double the number it’s required to.

Administrative services director Deborah Erickson said about 10 people observed the three-hour process, which didn't uncover any problems.

Erickson said two ballots weren't counted by the machines because the voter did not mark their ballot correctly, either because they filled in ovals for two candidates and crossed one out, or because they crossed out a candidate’s name.

The tabulator would have counted that as what's called an “overvote” — when a voter votes for too many candidates — and would not register a vote for anyone in that race, she said.

“So it all matched up and really did show that the machines count exactly as the voters mark their ballot,” Erickson said. In those two cases, the judges were able to determine the voters' intent and register their votes.

Erickson said she thinks the audit should show the accuracy of the vote-tabulating machines, but she said she doubts it will satisfy all of their critics who want to return to hand-counting all ballots.

"I think it should show the transparency and the trust that people should have in the process,” she said.

Sherburne County normally hand-counts three precincts. This year, it did four.

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Auditor-Treasurer Diane Arnold said the only differences between the hand count and the machine tallies were a couple ballots that voters marked incorrectly, such as leaving a stray mark outside of the oval.

Sherburne County is sharing more information online to educate voters about the vote-counting process, Arnold said.

“Most people come in on Election Day, they vote, and they walk away. And they don't know what happens before or after,” she said. “There's a lot of checks and balances that go into things, and a lot of audits."

In Anoka County, election officials added two more precincts than usual to its post-election review, for a total of six. It also hand-counted the race for secretary of state, which wasn’t required, said elections manager Tom Hunt.

Some members of the public and the group Citizens for Election Integrity observed the hand-count process, Hunt said.

As with the other counties, the hand counts matched the machine tallies almost perfectly, except in a couple cases where voters mismarked their ballots, he said.

Hunt said he thinks the audit helps prove the accuracy of the tabulating machines, but he knows it won’t convince everyone.

“I don’t know that it satisfied them totally,” he said. “They really want us to hand-count all of the precincts, and that’s their aim.”

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Minnesota’s state canvassing board met Tuesday, Nov. 29, and unanimously certified the 2022 election results, including state and judicial offices, Minnesota’s constitutional officers and eight U.S. House races.

All 87 counties have been conducting post-election reviews since 2006 as a way to verify the accuracy of voting equipment.

Statewide, the hand counts did not find issues with the machine results, Maeda said.

A few overvotes were discovered in Becker and Watonwan counties, where a certain vendor’s ballots had a deep fold that made it appear that the voter had voted for more than one candidate.

The problem was discovered the week before the election when counties were processing absentee and mail-in ballots, Maeda said. Election officials worked with the vendor to make sure it didn’t cause widespread issues, including having election judges flatten the ballots.

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