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Dassel Cokato election judges take their jobs seriously

Sept. 8, 2008

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Election judges, Joe Harmala of Cokato, and J. David Anderson of Dassel, both take their jobs seriously. They agree that each vote is important.

Harmala recalled when he was on Cokato City Council years ago, there was a referendum to add a library and community room to the museum complex at Fourth Street in Cokato. The referendum barely passed. Later, Harmala asked a resident if he had voted, and the man asked, “What good would it have done?”

Harmala was surprised at the man’s response. Each vote counts, and is important, Harmala added.

The referendum in 2003 on whether to build a Performing Arts Center and make football field improvements at the Dassel-Cokato High School was a good example of that, Harmala said.

After the polls closed, Harmala and the other judges counted the ballots in the high school library. The referendum passed by four votes, but it was so close, they had to schedule a recount, he said.

The judges returned to the high school library and counted the ballots, one-by-one, by hand. After a hundred or so ballots, the Cokato judges switched counting with the Dassel judges.

The recount was public, so people from the community could watch them. Also, the school’s attorney was present, Harmala recalled.

One ballot was disqualified, so the official result of the referendum was that it passed by three votes.

Harmala remembered that shortly before the polls closed at 8 p.m., a vehicle containing four voters pulled up at Cokato City Hall. Election judges are required to allow qualified voters already in line at the polls to vote even if it’s after 8 p.m. It turned out the four voters had gone to the wrong polling place so they didn’t have time to vote, Harmala said.

If those four votes would have been negative, Dassel Cokato High School would not have the PAC or the ballfield improvements.

Anderson also recalled the PAC vote as being the tightest election he has ever worked. Anderson, who is retired after 25 years at Top Farm Hybrids as a plant manager, is an election judge who works the final shift when the polls close. He counts the ballots. The ballots are counted into bundles of 100, and the totals must jibe with the number of voters, he said.

In the approximately 15 years he has been an election judge, Anderson remembers only once the counters had a difficult time getting the numbers to match. The six election judges worked late into the night getting the count right, he said.

Anderson took his annual election judge training Aug. 15 in Litchfield. Four years ago, the election judges in Meeker County had their training on the new machines voters use.

Anderson said he had been asked by the City of Dassel to be an election judge. He found he enjoys it. “It’s fun to see what goes on, and working with other people,” he said.

Usually, Anderson works the general elections only, he added.

In the approximately 15 years Harmala has been an election judge, Cokato residents have always had good poll turnout, and take their right to vote seriously, Harmala said.

Harmala is a ballot judge. Election judges have different duties. There are registration judges, roster judges and judges who assist in making the polls handicap accessible.

“It’s not like taking a ticket at a Twins game,” Harmala said.

Peggy Carlson is the head judge for Cokato. The local election judges completed their annual two hours of training Aug. 26, Harmala said.

The polls open at 7 a.m. Everything needs to be ready for voters before that, he said.

During the election, sometimes voters’ current addresses don’t match with what is on the official roster, and people with felony convictions don’t always realize they can’t vote. Sometimes the voting machines will get jammed and an election judge needs to push the ballot down the chute by hand.

“It makes for a long day sometimes,” Harmala said.

The most common mistakes voters make is during a primary election, voting for candidates from more than one party; or voting for more than the number of candidates that there are positions for.

Harmala taught business classes in Dassel Cokato High School for 34 years, and often sees his former students at the polls. “I enjoy that,” he said.

Harmala’s wife, Ann, is a substitute teacher at Cokato Elementary School, and their son, Joel, is a fourth grade teacher at Pequot Lakes. Their other son, Joshua is an engineering supervisor at HTI of Hutchinson, Harmala said.

Anderson’s wife, Karen, works at the State Bank of Cokato. Their son, Daniel, works for Monsanto in St. Louis, Mo., and their daughter, Kayrl, is manager of the Inver Grove Heights Home and Patio Store, he said.

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