North by northwest of Twin Cities, review of uncounted absentee ballots is hit or miss

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Two of the first in a series of a dozen regional meetings that started today in Minnesota’s Senate election recount adjourned this morning after only an hour — with very different results.

In Sherburne County, representatives of the campaigns of Al Franken and U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman agreed to forward to the State Canvassing Board 15 of 18 unopened absentee ballots that local election officials decided last week had been wrongly rejected.

But next door in Anoka County the process prescribed by order of the state Supreme Court quickly collapsed, with the rival campaigns at loggerheads over the Coleman representative’s insistence on including ballots that local officials had not selected as having been wrongly rejected. Coleman’s camp wanted to add about 10 ballots to the 35 that Anoka County Elections Department had identified as belonging in the so-called “fifth pile” of unopened absentee ballots, Anoka Elections Supervisor Rachel Smith said. Franken’s forces rejected that move.

“Both campaigns refused to participate.” That’s how Smith described the situation to the Minnesota Independent. After about 45 minutes, the meeting was adjourned with no action on the uncounted ballots. The Supreme Court’s Friday deadline for submitting the ballots to the state can only be met if the meeting participants come to some agreement, Smith said. But due to the New Year’s holiday and staff scheduling, any follow-up meeting will have to occur today or Wednesday.

Coleman’s camp tried to introduce new uncounted ballots in Sherburne County too, but local officials there refused. Sherburne County will send the secretary of state an explanation for why the three “fifth pile” ballots aren’t included with the other 15, County Election Manager Steve Klepsa told MnIndy. The 18 were the only absentee ballots of more than 4,000 cast in Sherburne County to be wrongly rejected.

In Anoka County, the 35 fifth-pile ballots were the only ones wrongly rejected out of 13,000 that voters submitted, Smith said.

Two other counties with only a handful of uncounted ballots each also held their meetings today at the two north metro locations, Isanti County at Anoka County and Mille Lacs County at Sherburne County. Other counties where officials are holding public reviews of fifth-pile ballots today include Dakota, Kandiyohi, Olmsted, Beltrami and St. Louis. The meetings continue Wednesday and Friday in Wright, Blue Earth, Otter Tail, Crow Wing, and Polk counties.