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Washington County to begin recount Nov. 19

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One hundred thirty seven thousand, three hundred and twenty three.

That's the number of votes cast in Washington County during the Nov. 4 election. It's also the number of votes Washington County elections teams will be recounting by hand as it participates in a statewide recount effort to determine the winner the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota.

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"It's certainly going to be a lot of work," said Kevin Corbid, the county's director of property records and taxpayer services, regarding the county's recount effort, which will begin Wednesday, Nov. 19.

As it was last reported by the Secretary of State's office, Republican incumbent Norm Coleman led Democrat challenger Al Franken by 221 votes after nearly 3 million were counted in the race for the senate seat.

According to results posted on the Washington County elections website, 63,811 votes were cast for Coleman in the county. Franken earned 50,572 votes in Washington County. The difference is much greater than the statewide vote totals as they currently stand, but Corbid said every vote counts, or for that matter, recounts.

"The machines we use to read the votes are very accurate," Corbid said. "But when you're dealing with such a small difference in the statewide votes for each candidate, every single vote cast in every county really does count."

Corbid said his department is in the midst of seeking assistance from various municipalities in the county to aid in the recount effort. City clerks and election judges will most likely help staff the recount effort, which will be conducted at the Washington County Government Center in Stillwater.

"The nice thing we have here in Washington County is that our county election officials and city clerks have a real good working relationship. We worked with them to help get enough election judges at every precinct."

Second recount in three months

The upcoming U.S. Senate recount isn't even the first time this election cycle where Washington County has held a recount.

After the September primary, the county held a recount to determine the second and third-place finishers in a judicial district race.

"That was only 15,000 ballots that needed to be recounted, but it was a recount nevertheless," Corbid said. "We've got nearly 10 times as many votes to count by hand this time around.

How it will work

Corbid said Washington County will conduct its recount process in a straight forward fashion. The process will take place in one room with recount teams of three assembled at several tables.

One of the three election officials will be the ballot evaluator and will make the initial determination if the ballot is a vote for Franken or Coleman.

The table will have one staff member counting the Franken votes and one staff member counting the Coleman votes.

"I think we'll have upwards of 30 people working on the recount at any given time until we finish," Corbid said.

In addition to the county staff working on the recount, Corbid said he expects legal representatives of both the Coleman and Franken campaigns to be at each table.

"The campaigns are allowed, by law, to have one representative at each table," Corbid said.

As each ballot is evaluated and counted, both party representatives will be allowed to view the ballot and issue a challenge if they think ballot evaluator's determination was incorrect. If a consensus cannot be reached at the table, the ballot will go into a secured box labeled "challenged votes," which will then be evaluated by the state canvassing board.

"The law states that the challenges can't be frivolous in nature," Corbid said. "We don't expect such actions to take place, but we have procedures in place if they do."

Post-election audit helps

On Monday the county performed a post-election audit, where it conducted recounts of a few precincts chosen at random to analyze any discrepancies in the voting machine calculated counts and hand counts. The post-election audit process was installed by the Secretary of State's office in 2006 and Corbid said it has proven that the machine counts accurate.

"The times we've done the audit, it's proven to be effective," he said. "But it's nice to do because it provides a level of comfort and confidence that in Minnesota that the ballots are being counted correctly," he said.

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