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all in a day’s work

By Staff | Nov 24, 2008

Faribault County Auditor John Thompson separates ballots by vote, as party observers John Huisman (DFL) left, and Neal Breitbarth (GOP) watch.

One by one thousands of ballots cast in the U.S. Senate race in Faribault County on Nov. 4 were examined, sorted and then hand-counted on Wednesday.

It was all part of a statewide recount effort to determine a winner between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.

“I think it went pretty smooth, but I just as soon not have another recount,” says County Auditor John Thompson.

In all, Thompson and three election judges — Liz Boettcher, Trish Gjere and Alice LaMont — handled more than 8,000 ballots stored in 33 precinct boxes that began at 8:30 a.m. and ended by 7 p.m.

By 11 a.m., two votes in Wells were challenged by the Coleman supporters.

“An ‘x’ was placed through a Coleman and (Dean) Barkley vote, then the oval was darkened in for Franken, I counted them as votes for him,” explains Thompson.

On hand to observe were a lawyer representing each candidate — Blue Earth attorney Joel Welder for Coleman and Dan O’Fallon of the Twin Cities for Franken.

Persons identified as a ‘recount observer’ by a plastic card draped around their neck were Faribault County Democrat Party chairman John Huisman, Archie Baumann, Marsha Taubenhaus and Blair Jasper. For the Republicans, it was Faribault County party chairman David Murray, Martin County party chairman Neal Breitbarth and Mia Semuta.

“I worked on the campaign and they asked me to stay on, and I did. It’s been quite an experience,” says Jasper, a recount site coordinator for Franken and a native of Pipestone.

After nearly 10 hours of sifting through ballots, four were challenged by Franken representatives and three by Coleman’s.

Unofficially, three votes were taken off Coleman’s total of 3,598, while Franken’s remained at 2,909.

“The ballots are sent to the state canvassing board. They will make the final decision,” explains Welder.

Thompson says the ballots will be turned over to the Secretary of State’s Office, but how they will be spent has not been determined.

Throughout the day, recount observers recorded results on spread sheets and at times relayed the information back to their respective state campaign headquarters using their cell phones.

Semuta of Harrisburg, Pa., says when the Republican Party in her state put out the word that help was needed in Minnesota for the recount, she didn’t hesitate to volunteer.

“I had the time and I knew I could do it. I guess I needed an adventure,” she says.

In September, Semuta left her teaching job to join the McCain campaign victory committee.

This week Jasper will be in Mankato, overseeing the recount of Blue Earth County votes, while Semuta doesn’t know where she’ll be.

“I’m sure they’ll send me somewhere, I just don’t know where. I’ll just wait for a phone call,” she says.

Thompson says 36 of the county absentee ballots — from a total of 800 — were rejected because the voter did not properly follow instructions.

“Right now they are sealed and locked in a safe. I won’t release them until I’m ordered by a judge to do so,” he says.