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Meeker County Auditor Barbara Loch, center, and Jane Lind examine documents during the meeting of the canvassing board Friday in Litchfield. Members certified the election results, including a one-vote difference in the District 2 County Board race. From left in the foreground are Leo Bauer, Joyce Spreiter and Ron Kutzke. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)
Meeker County Auditor Barbara Loch, center, and Jane Lind examine documents during the meeting of the canvassing board Friday in Litchfield. Members certified the election results, including a one-vote difference in the District 2 County Board race. From left in the foreground are Leo Bauer, Joyce Spreiter and Ron Kutzke. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)

Recount expected in Meeker County, Minn., election for County Board

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news Willmar, 56201

Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

LITCHFIELD -- Two sticky ballots are apparently to blame for a discrepancy in the ballot count in a Meeker County precinct that has changed the outcome in what had originally been a tie race for County Board.

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A recount is certain and a lawsuit is possible.

"I think it's rotten," said Commissioner David Gabrielson, who is currently the loser in the race, by one vote. "I've never heard of anything like this."

A tie vote between the Meeker County Board candidates in District 2 was initially reported.

Gabrielson, who has served on the County Board for 18 years, and his challenger Dale Fenrich, who serves on the Litchfield Township board of supervisors, each had 1,069 votes.

On Wednesday, County Auditor Barbara Loch was researching options to resolve the tie vote.

But at the same time, her office was also looking at a discrepancy in Litchfield Township between the number of ballots in the ballot box and the number of signatures on the roster.

On Friday morning, Loch issued a news release that said her office had spent the "last two days reviewing and verifying the results" and identified the discrepancy.

The discrepancy was also noted by the Litchfield Township election judges on their incident log.

That document indicates that at 10:10 a.m. on Election Day, a voter was inadvertently given two ballots that were apparently stuck together.

The voter filled out the front of one ballot and the backside of the second ballot. The double ballot was fed into the tabulating machine, said Loch.

By the time election judges realized the error, the voter had left the building,

Under the legal advice of County Attorney Stephanie Beckman, Loch said in an interview, she followed state statute 204C.20, which includes a section for dealing with excess ballots.

She said two election judges from opposite political parties were recruited. After drawing cards to determine which election judge would take action, that judge randomly picked a ballot from the box of ballots from Litchfield Township.

That ballot, which belonged to a voter who had voted for Gabrielson, was subtracted from the vote totals.

That gave Gabrielson one less vote than Fenrich.

During the canvassing of the election results Friday afternoon at the Meeker County Courthouse, those results were certified.

Details about the excess ballot procedure and information about the two sticky ballots were not publicly presented during the meeting of the canvassing board.

There is no automatic recount of county elections, but Loch said Gabrielson has seven days from the date the votes were certified to submit a written request for a recount. Because there is a one-vote difference, the county would pay for the recount.

Beckman announced a tentative time of 9 a.m. Wednesday for the expected recount to take place.

In a telephone interview, Gabrielson, who made no apologies for being upset with how the situation was handled, said it was "criminal" to solve the excess ballot issue by randomly drawing a ballot from the box.

Gabrielson said he will ask for a recount and said he may even file a lawsuit against the county. "I'm not letting them off the hook," he said.

If the vote tally does stand and Gabrielson is defeated, it will mean that every incumbent was knocked off the Meeker County Board and that all five members will be new and inexperienced.

"Oh, it's going to be a disaster," said Gabrielson, reacting to the idea of a board without a single incumbent.

Efforts to reach Fenrich on Friday night were not successful.

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