WILLMAR — After Friday's hand recount of the 2,876 ballots cast in the Kandiyohi County Board District 2 race, Steve Gardner's victory was confirmed by the final vote tally.
Gardner defeated incumbent Commissioner Steve Ahmann by 18 total votes, five more than the original margin of victory.
"I am happy we got a resolution to it," Gardner said. "I am looking forward to getting on with the work."
Ahmann, who is finishing his first term on the County Board, said he accepts the results.
"The vote was tallied and it is correct and I believe the process is correct," Ahmann said. "The final tally was in favor of Mr. Gardner. A very close race."
The recount was requested by Ahmann last week, as is allowed by state election law. The original difference between the two candidates was less than one half of 1 percent, meaning the recount was paid for by the county.
The recount did not look into whether a voter was eligible to vote or if an absentee ballot was correctly accepted.
"It is simply to physically recount the ballots of this race," said Kandiyohi County Auditor Mark Thompson, who as the lead election official was in charge of the recount.
Two teams of county auditor staff and election judges hand counted each vote cast in the race. District 2, which is completely within the Willmar city limits, includes Precincts 2 and 3 of Ward 3 and Precincts 1, 2 and 3 of Ward 4.
Each campaign was allowed two representatives to directly watch the recount. Ahmann and his wife, Heidi Jo Ahmann, were on hand, as were Bruce deBlieck and Rebecca Trongaard, acting as representatives for Gardner, who was unable to attend the recount.
The ballots from one precinct at a time were separated in three piles, one for Gardner, one for Ahmann and one for other. As the recount of the five precincts was conducted, five ballots were added to Gardner's total, due to voter intent. This is when a ballot was marked for a specific candidate but was not read by the ballot tabulation machine. The judges and each campaign agreed that those five votes belonged to Gardner.
Each candidate or their representative could also challenge a ballot if they felt it was being counted incorrectly. Thompson said the Ahmann campaign challenged one ballot, which they believed should not have counted toward either candidate. But at the conclusion of the recount, Ahmann withdrew his challenge of the single ballot.
"Based on the final results, we have no change of the overall winner," Thompson said. "Steve Gardner remains the top vote getter."
Thompson said the recount went very smooth.
"All participants and candidate representatives were very cordial," Thompson said.
"You guys did a great job," Ahmann said. "It was very professional, very accurate, very well put together, well-organized and well-explained."
While his re-election campaign did not end the way he had hoped, Ahmann said he has nothing to complain about.
"I had 20 years of good service," said Ahmann, who served 16 years on the Willmar City Council before being elected to the Kandiyohi County Board in 2016. "I have 20 years of people putting their trust in me. I think that is a win as far as I am concerned."
Gardner said he is looking forward to representing District 2 and the county as a whole once he is sworn into office in January.
"We worked really hard to make our case to the voters," Gardner said. "They seemed to like what we had to say. I look forward to working on their behalf over the next four years."
For more related stories, see Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.