School district election remains unchanged following recount

December 10, 2007

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

Despite a “hanging chad” moment reminiscent of the presidential election in 2000, the Delano School District’s recount of its ballot from the Nov. 6 election showed question one still passed – this time by five votes instead of four.

In the Nov. 6 election, there were 2,686 ballots counted in the hours after the votes were cast. There were 2,685 ballots counted at the recount Wednesday at Independence City Hall. Voters in Indepdendence had their ballots fed into a tabulation machine, while ballots in Delano and Loretto were hand-counted.

Independence City Administrator Toni Hirsch and Delano Schools Business Administrator Sarah Miller think that at the election Nov. 6 when judges were counting the ballots, it’s possible a ballot was inserted into the machine and counted once, but then jammed the machine. A judge may have pulled it out and fed it through the machine again, resulting in that ballot being counted a second time.

“None of us were expecting that,” Miller said. “Normally the machine is accurate, which it should be, but you still have the possibility of human error with someone feeding it through.”

Election judges recounting the ballots found the same votes in favor of, and one less vote against the question, which asked voters for funds to operate a new grade 4-6 building.

This time, instead of the difference being four votes, it was five – 1,343 in favor of, and 1,338 against.

“It’s interesting that the only ballot that was changed was from the machine count, and that the ballots that were manually counted were without error, which speaks well to the efforts of the election judges, and we appreciate their accuracy in their work,” said Superintendent Dr. John Sweet.

At the polls on election night, voters rejected going forward with funding plans to buy the land and construct the building by 142 votes.

Franklin Township resident Wallace Johnson, who petitioned for the recount to take place, said he was pleased with the process and how it worked out.

“I think, while the results didn’t change, the process was still very worthwhile,” Johnson said late last week. “I am glad the recount took place. I thought the process was very well organized. Sarah Miller did a wonderful job of coordinating the whole thing.”

Johnson said his disappointment was in the wording on the ballot itself, which he said did not state the increase was for a new building. He felt people may have voted in support of question number one, thinking it was to support operating what the school district already has.

“I talked with people who were in favor of the new building, and those opposed, and in either case, they felt it was for the existing budget,” Johnson said.

Sweet addressed that, saying the wording on the ballot is driven by legal requirements, and to be an informed voter, “you need to consume the information that the school district provides regarding the election and each question.”

As for the recount itself, Miller said the process for it went well, and everyone worked well together. She said when she ran through instructions with the judges prior to the recount, she said it’s not unusual in a recount to come up with slightly different figures.

“I’m not sure what the statistics are on recounts, but when I visited with Wright County and Hennepin County, they said they see more recounts on the candidate side than ballot questions,” Miller said.

As for the cost of the recount, Miller said state statute determines who pays for it. She said in this case because of the narrow margin, the school district has to pay whatever costs are associated with it.

Both Miller and Johnson said they were appreciative of the work the judges did on election night and at the recount.

“A lot of these judges have been very dedicated, and performed the duty of election judge for many years, “ Miller said. “We certainly appreciate their support and dedication. They may have to help us again, and we’d appreciate them to come onboard again.”

“I think it was a good civic process that we went through, and I certainly have no regrets about petitioning for the recount,” Johnson said.

Where the school district will go next

Sweet said having the recount behind the board gives the board more options for solving the over capacity problem the district is facing because it doesn’t have to deal with the operating levy, which was designed to proved funds for the operation of the new building.

He said the consensus of the board remains that the district needs to get that property acquired, not only for educational interests, but economic interests, as well, to have the campus together for as long as possible.

Sweet said a special election could be called for in December or January, and said if a bond issue could be passed yet this spring, the building could be occupied by fall of 2010.

He said if the election is delayed, and isn’t passed until fall, the building wouldn’t be able to be occupied until fall 2011.

At a special meeting last Monday, Sweet presented information on tax impacts for acquiring the land, estimated at $980,000. He said that includes the purchase of land, appraisals, surveying, and everything associated with land purchases.

Over a 10-year period, on a $272,500 valued property, it will cost $17 a year. Stretched out over 15 years, it would cost $24 per year.

“The interest in savings by going 10 years rather than 15 is about $132,000,” Sweet said.

If a second question were to be on the ballot asking for the building, Sweet said he is unsure of calculations at this time.

The next school board meeting will take place Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Delano City Hall. This meeting date has been changed due to Christmas.