HISTORIC SENATE RECOUNT BEGINS
Two area counties completed their work Wednesday in the first day of a statewide hand recount of votes in the U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken.
Kandiyohi County, including the city of Willmar, and Chippewa County saw slight variations from their final vote totals, and each had a handful of challenged ballots.
In a final review of the Senate vote on Tuesday, a state canvassing board found that Coleman led by a little more than 200 votes, a margin so small that it triggered a statewide hand recount of nearly 3 million ballots. The recount will take place at numerous sites around the state before Dec. 5.
The ballot tally went up and down for Coleman during a recount Tuesday of 21,973 ballots in Kandiyohi County. That number includes the ballots counted in the city of Willmar.
According to the tally posted on the Secretary of State's Web site, Coleman received 10,246 votes and Franken received 8,003 of the total votes cast in Kandiyohi County.
There were a total of nine challenged ballots -- including six cast for Coleman and three cast for Franken.
There were vote discrepancies in six precincts where the recounted figure did not match the original election night tally.
The recount showed that the machines, and the humans doing the recounting, are not perfect.
In the first two cases of voter discrepancy, Coleman gained a total of two votes -- one in Holland Township and one in the city of Raymond. When another precinct showed a loss of one ballot of Coleman, a representative from his campaign asked that the votes be counted again. The result was the same, with a loss of one vote for Coleman.
A representative for Franken then asked if a recount could be made for the two precincts where Coleman had gained votes. County Auditor Sam Modderman denied that request because the recount had already been signed off and those ballots had been sealed. He told the Franken volunteer that the request for recount needed to be made when the ballots were on the table.
Later, when the counters gave Franken one less ballot in another precinct, that recount was immediately challenged and repeated, with Franken gaining back his lost vote.
At another table, a Coleman representative was watching the counter create stacks of 25 Franken votes when he said he believed there were 26 in the stack. During a second count it was discovered that four or five piles actually had 26 ballots in the stack instead of 25, which would have decreased Franken's total count. In the end, Franken's vote remained the same in that precinct.
Volunteers from both campaigns played tag team, relieving each other as they sat beside the official ballot sorter, waiting to challenge a ballot and to watch as the ballots were counted.
Paul Mandelson had been brought in from Denver, Colo., to serve as the lead representative for the Coleman campaign. "We just want to make sure the votes get counted fairly," he said.
The three teams of sorters and counters finished around 3:45 p.m., well ahead of schedule. Modderman said the efficiency of the crew was "beyond his expectations."
At the beginning the day, Modderman said he could "feel the excitement" in the room from the observers who were there to monitor the event. He warned those watching that as the day wore on he was sure "you'll discover, hey, this is kind of boring."
WILLMAR -- Coleman lost two votes and Franken lost one vote in Wednesday's recount of ballots cast by Willmar voters in the Nov. 4 general election.
Coleman's total vote in the four wards of the city decreased from 3,917 to 3,915. Franken's vote total in the four wards declined from 3,414 to 3,413.
Observers for the Franken campaign challenged three Coleman ballots and observers for the Coleman campaign challenged one Franken ballot.
City Clerk Kevin Halliday said all city ballots were retrieved by two staff members at 8:30 a.m. from a locked vault at the downtown Kandiyohi County Office Building and brought to the second-floor conference room at the City Office Building.
Three teams of three judges in each team began counting shortly after 9 a.m. The count by each team was watched by a volunteer from the Democratic Party and one from the Republican Party, and other volunteers for Franken and Coleman also watched the recount.
Halliday, who was in charge of the city recount, said the four challenges were quite reasonable.
"Nothing frivolous and not exactly in tune with what our judges thought, but that's OK. That's what the State Board of Canvass will do when they look at it,'' Halliday said. "By and large, the count (of the M100 precinct voting counters) was quite accurate.''
Halliday said the recount went smoothly and everyone was cooperative. The view was shared by election judges Patrick Curry and Don Jacobson, who said they enjoyed their day's work.
"There were a lot of nice people in here. We found very few ballots to correct. There was no in-fighting. The challenges and challengers were agreeable, which was good,'' said Curry.
"It was a long day, a lot of counting, but that's part of it,'' said Jacobson.
Chippewa County completed its recount Wednesday afternoon with five challenged ballots.
The Franken campaign challenged three ballots, and the Coleman campaign challenged two.
In the final count of more than 6,300 votes cast in the Senate race, Franken received 2,558 votes, and Coleman received 2,418 votes. Coleman lost one vote because of a challenge.
In a careful, methodical examination of ballots, County Auditor Jon Clausen and employees Kathy Leindecker and Faye Harms were the only ones who could touch them.
Each precinct's ballots were removed from a sealed box and resealed in the box before the next precinct was counted. Leindecker or Harms separated ballots into piles for each precinct and then counted them by hand.
One observer from each campaign sat at the table to watch as ballots were sorted in piles -- Coleman on the right, Franken on the left and other ballots in the center. Other observers stood behind to watch.
The women counted the ballots into stacks of 25. For each stack, they looked up at the observers to see that they agreed with the count. If the counts did not equal the Election Night tally, Clausen had them double-check by counting again immediately.
After the recount was finished for his county, Clausen said he thought the process had worked well.
Staff writers David Little, Carolyn Lange and Linda Vanderwerf contributed to this story.