State House recounts scheduled to begin Monday

Midterm Elections
Voting booth dividers in Savage, Minn., on Nov. 8. Recounts in two Iron Range precincts begin Monday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Election recounts for two extremely close state House races in northeastern Minnesota are scheduled to begin Monday morning.

In House District 3B, Republican Natalie Zeleznikar defeated longtime DFL incumbent Mary Murphy by 35 votes. The race in House District 3A was even closer. Republican Roger Skraba defeated incumbent DFLer Rob Ecklund by 15 votes.

In both cases, the trailing candidates have requested publicly funded recounts.

They're scheduled to begin Monday at 9 a.m. in Cook, Itasca and St. Louis Counties, on Tuesday in Koochiching county, and on Wednesday morning in Lake County.

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During those recounts, election officials individually review each ballot cast on election day. According to Secretary of State Steve Simon, about one out of every 2,000 or 3,000 ballots cast is marked in a way that's difficult for an optical scanning machine to read.

"For example, a voter might inadvertently circle the name of a candidate rather than darkening the oval beside that name, that's just one of many examples."

Hand counting ballots, Simon said, ensures those votes are properly tallied — if election officials can determine voter intent.

State elections director David Maeda said ballots are first sorted by precinct. Then teams of election judges and staff count the ballots by hand.

The entire process is open to the public. And each candidate has a representative at each table where the ballots are counted.

“And those are the people that can potentially challenge ballots, based on the voter intent not being clear,” Maeda said.

Typically, when the recount is complete, all the challenged ballots are set aside and sealed in envelopes, Maeda said. Then candidates will decide whether they want to continue with the challenge to the state canvassing board.

“Because oftentimes, at the end of the recount, the result hasn't changed,” Meada said.

In fact, the last time a recount changed the result of an election was in 1986, when Carl Stich was initially declared the winner in House District 16A by six votes. After the recount, Bernard P. Omann, Jr. was determined to be the winner by 48 votes.

The Secretary of State’s office reimburses counties 4 cents for each ballot counted. The total cost is estimated to be about $1,735 for the two races combined.

Election officials expect the recounts to be finished next Wednesday. But Maeda said it will take another week or so after that to certify the election, when the state canvassing board reconvenes sometime the following week.