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Late vote counts seem fishy

Nov. 17, 2008

by Roz Kohls

Something fishy is going on with the final vote counting in Minnesota’s US Senate race.

Wednesday morning, Nov. 5, Sen. Norm Coleman led Al Franken by 725 votes, according to Joe Fryer of KARE 11 News. By Wednesday night, the lead was 477 votes. By Thursday night, Nov. 6, it was 336. As of Nov. 11, it was 204, Fryer said.

There are always differences in the vote count between the election and when the results are certified. That is why results are called “unofficial” until after they get reported to the Secretary of State’s office.

These changing vote counts don’t pass the smell test, though, for several reasons. Why are bunches of ballots (all votes for Franken) turning up days after the votes were counted? Wouldn’t at least some of the shifts in vote counts turning up late be for Coleman?

Also, one big shift of 100 votes was attributed to “tired election officials” who entered wrong numbers at 5 a.m, according to an account in the Star Tribune. The vast majority of precincts in Minnesota use optical scanners to count votes. The vote tallies are sent electronically to the county seat and the Secretary of State’s Office. Humans, tired or not, don’t do the initial count by hand.

However, the number one reason the vote count shifts seem suspicious is what I observed election night. I had gone to the polls shortly before they closed in Dassel to get the unofficial results for the mayor and city council positions for this newspaper’s web site.

When voters didn’t darken enough or fill in the ovals on their ballots, the optical scanner notified the voter and an election judge. The voter was given a fresh ballot to use, and the spoiled ballot was collected and put with other spoiled ballots in a box.

When the recount begins after Nov. 18, the judges aren’t going to find many spoiled ballots, if the optical scanners were notifying the voters right away at the polls.

Second, before the results were taken from the scanner, the Dassel election judges had a checklist of things to do beforehand, and they followed it religiously. The number of people who signed in to vote, and the number of votes cast had to match precisely. All of the numbers had to match before they opened the scanner to look at the paper tape that recorded the results.

I was sitting there watching very impatiently, and I’m sure it showed. Still, the judges were careful and checked every detail, counted, recounted, and cross-checked every number. I’m sure my eyes were bulging out from anticipation, and yet the Dassel election judges followed their checklist step-by-step, counting and matching numbers.

Finally, and fortunately before I turned into a case of spontaneous combustion, the Dassel judges opened the optical scanner to see the results on the paper tape.

Those election judges in the precincts still finding paper ballots that hadn’t been counted earlier must have done a sloppy and careless job, compared to the Dassel election judges. Obviously, their numbers didn’t match if uncounted ballots were turning up days later.

Why haven’t those precincts with the sloppy judges been named in the news media? Why are only the vote totals being reported? Something stinks.