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Mark Thompson, assistant Kandiyohi County auditor, is shown with tubs of ballots that will be recounted Wednesday for the U.S. Senate race. To accommodate the Tribune's request for a photo, Thompson and Auditor Sam Modderman were present, per the protocol of always having two people present with the ballots. Their entry into the locked room was noted in a log that is kept, detailing the reasons for anyone entering the room. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

Recounts will begin Wednesday in Kandiyohi County

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WILLMAR -- Tables, chairs, pilers, sorters and -- most importantly -- ballots are being prepared for the recount in the U.S. Senate race that will begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Kandiyohi County.

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Chippewa and Pope counties will also begin Wednesday.

Renville, Swift, Meeker and Yellow Medicine counties will begin their recount on Thursday, and Lac qui Parle County is scheduled to begin Friday.

Teams, with each team consisting of one "sorter" and two "pilers," will quietly, and it is hoped quickly, count the ballots as challengers -- representatives from the Democrat and Republican parties -- watch the process and prepare to call a questionable ballot.

In Kandiyohi County, three teams will be put to work to count about 13,000 ballots in the lower level of the County Office Building in downtown Willmar.

Three teams will also be working in the conference room at the Willmar City Office Building to count 8,630 ballots.

Kandiyohi County Auditor Sam Modderman and Willmar City Clerk Kevin Halliday are optimistic the process can be completed in one day.

"We'll take on one ward at a time," said Halliday. "We'll probably go two hours in a ward and we're done in an eight-hour day."

Halliday is ordering dinner in for the crew of counters and pilers so that work won't have to be stopped. "We'll just stay right there until it's done."

The people representing the different candidate's campaigns are on their own for lunch. "They have to bring their own egg salad sandwiches," said Halliday.

Because of the tight quarters, Modderman said the nine individuals who will be counting the ballots in the County Office Building will go out for dinner in staggered breaks so that there will always be someone with the ballots.

County and city officials received training for doing the recount to ensure methods are followed throughout the state.

Modderman and Halliday have appointed community individuals, mostly experienced election judges, to do the work.

Modderman said he opted not to use county staff in order to let his office keep pace with the other county work, like preparing tax statements.

The "sorter" on the team will sort the ballots into separate piles for Sen. Norm Coleman, Al Franken and "other" candidates. There will also be a pile for any disputed ballots.

Two "pilers" will sit on either side of the counter. The pilers will stack and clip the ballots into piles of 25. The piles of 25 ballots will be criss-crossed and counted.

The political representatives can "hover around" to "see if there's something they don't like," said Halliday. They will not be allowed to touch the ballots.

Modderman said the party representatives can decide for themselves which stack of ballots they want to keep an eye on.

For the casual observer who wants to participate in the recount, chairs will be set up in the city and county buildings. Modderman said he'll hang signs from the tables indicating which pile of ballots is for one candidate or another.

Based on previous recounts and the audit following the election, Halliday said he believes there will be very few challenged ballots here. "Most of them are just black ovals. Unchallengeable."

Halliday said people pay attention to the instructions when they vote. If there does happen to be a questionable ballot, "that's what the challengers are there for," he said.

And, Halliday said, "There are no magic ballots stacked around the county."

The challengers will be looking to see if there was a check mark beside the oval, but not in the oval, or if the name was underlined or circled, for example, which would not have been picked up by the optical scanning machine.

As long as it's clear who the voter intended to choose, it will be counted when ballots are counted by hand.

During the 2000 recount between David Minge and Mark Kennedy in a congressional election, Modderman said there were six to eight challenged ballots in Kandiyohi County. But during the audit last week of 20,000-some ballots, he does not recall any ballots that weren't filled in properly.

"I think people have gotten used to marking the ballots," said Modderman.

"I really am questioning how many challenged ballots there will be," he said. "People have gotten pretty wise."

Modderman has been through a few audits in his day, but this one is different because the eyes of the nation are looking at Minnesota.

"Everybody is watching us," he said, which is creating a little more emotional stress. "I'm looking forward to Thursday, to be honest. Provided we're done."

Modderman said the recount is an administrative audit. "All we do is check the ballots that were there."

Rejected absentee ballots will not be addressed during the recount. There were 17 rejected absentee ballots in Kandiyohi County, according to Modderman. Most were rejected because there was not a registration card. One did not have a matching signature and another had a witness signature from someone who did not live in the precinct.

The campaigns have already requested information on the rejected absentee ballots. Whether they will be counted or not may be a decision that's decided by the courts.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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