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Beefed-up post-election review returns perfect match with machine tally

The count is a manual audit of paper ballots in randomly selected precincts for specific offices to determine the accuracy of the voting system prescribed by state law.

Election judges examine a ballot
Election judges Karen Ahle, left, and Leslie Parker work together to hand-count ballots Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, as part of the post-election review process in the Crow Wing County Land Services Building in Brainerd.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — The results of a hand count of nearly 2,000 Crow Wing County ballots Monday, Nov. 21, exactly matched the tallies recorded by tabulators in the 2022 general election.

The count took place as part of the post-election review process, which is a manual audit of paper ballots in randomly selected precincts for specific offices to determine the accuracy of the voting system. Required by state law to review results in two voting precincts, the Crow Wing County Board in August opted to perform the hand count in four precincts amid persistent doubts about election integrity raised by members of the public.

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About 10 people observed the three-hour process Monday in the Land Services Building as two pairs of election judges reviewed 1,953 ballots from Fairfield and Perry Lake townships, the city of Manhattan Beach and the Baxter P1E precinct. The judges, selected by clerks in the precincts under review to reflect political party balance, hand-counted the contests in the 8th Congressional District and for Minnesota governor.

As part of the count, the judges also identified ballots with write-in votes, those left blank for the office in question, those featuring over-votes or when the voter’s intent needed reviewing. In two instances when tabulators correctly tallied over-votes in the governor’s race — meaning voters made more markings than allowed — election judges agreed the voters’ intended to vote for the Republican candidate Dr. Scott Jensen. In one case, the voter filled in two ovals but crossed out one, and in the other case, the voter filled in the oval for Jensen but crossed out Gov. Tim Walz’s name.

“In every circumstance, the hand count upheld what the machine count was — there were only the two changes,” said Deborah Erickson, administrative services director. “ … The post-election review once again held up that the machines counted exactly how they are intended to be counted.”

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Monday’s count was the endcap to the election contest period, the last official process required by state law before the state canvassing board meets to certify results. Although always open to the public, the post-election review typically doesn’t draw much attention. In recent years, however, previously uncontroversial administrative tasks are under heavier scrutiny due to false claims of widespread election fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Before Monday’s counting began, Erickson could be heard explaining why public observers were expected to remain in a seating area in the center of the room corralled by tables. The Minnesota Elections Post-Election Review Guide states the official presiding over the review “shall ensure that this public observation does not interfere with the counting or security of the ballots.” People watching could direct questions toward her, Erickson said, but could not directly question the work of the election judges.

People sit in chairs in the center of a room
Members of the public sit in a designated area Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, with the opportunity to observe the post-election review process in the Crow Wing County Land Services Building in Brainerd.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Mark Olson, a regular attendee at County Board meetings who has repeatedly raised concerns about Dominion Voting Systems equipment and election security, offered his interpretation of the review guide and went back and forth with Erickson over what the process should entail. He challenged Erickson about how those watching could know for sure the election judges were properly counting the votes.

“Because they’re looking at them both together, two different election judges of two different political parties and they’re looking at each ballot together,” Erickson said. “ … You have to trust the election judges who are the officials in the process. Were you an election judge, Mark? That’s how you get to be involved in the process, is becoming an election judge.”

In the introduction to the process, Erickson explained the purpose of the review and what could be expected.

“If we find that the machines have counted the votes wrong, you need to be aware that this is not unusual and this is why we have the review laws. Normally any errors by judges or the machine are random errors and there can be slight changes of vote tallies after a post-election review because officials are required to determine voter intent,” Erickson said. “It should be noted that in every post-election review to date across the state, the overall results of the election have not been changed because of these slight changes in vote tallies.”

Erickson and county elections official Kathy Toensing proceeded to cut open zip ties on the boxes holding the ballots and handed them to the election judges. In the case of the Baxter and Fairfield Township precincts, the judges counted those cast in the polling places on Election Day and those cast by absentee ballot in separate batches. Perry Lake Township and Manhattan Beach are both mail ballot precincts and were counted in one batch each.

Election judges seated at a table review ballots as Deborah Erickson and Mark Olson look on
Crow Wing County Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson, second from right, shows an over-voted ballot to Mark Olson, a member of the public observing the post-election review process Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, as election judges Marianne Auge, left, and Sharon Libby Nix hand-count ballots.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

As the judges completed each race, Erickson announced the hand-counted tallies compared to the machine tallies and whether there was a change. For those ballots on which determining voter intent was necessary, she approached the observers with the ballot and explained how the election judges reached their conclusion.

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In counting two races and double-checking one another’s work, the election judges handled the 1,953 ballots at least 7,812 times over the course of three hours. After the process ended, Erickson noted how labor-intensive — and expensive — this same process would be if scaled to every race on all 32,813 ballots cast this November in Crow Wing County.

“It took two hours to hand count just under 1,200 ballots for two offices. There are 32 offices for that particular ballot, so it’s pretty easy to do the math … if you have 1,000 ballots cast in a precinct, it’s going to take 32 hours to calculate results,” she said.

It would likely take even longer, Erickson said, if the county abandoned tabulators entirely in favor of a full hand count, as has been suggested by constituents at County Board meetings. This is because there would not be tabulated results for comparison, meaning simple human error would likely mean multiple rounds of counting with less accurate results overall.

“The machines are accurate, they’re trustworthy and voters should have all confidence in the fact that the machines counted their ballot exactly how they wanted it to.”

Asked for his thoughts on the process after its completion Monday, Olson said it looked like it was done properly, but questions remain for him about the voting machines and whether they’re properly certified.

Erickson said she’s provided copies of the voting equipment certifications to the citizen group and swiftly rebuked claims the equipment lacked proper vetting.

“The update that we have with our equipment that we are currently operating on in the 2022 election cycle was certified and is valid and accurate,” Erickson said. “It was certified by the EAC (Election Assistance Commission) as well as approved by the state of Minnesota for use in elections in Minnesota as of the 2022 election cycle.”

Hand-counted results

Baxter P1E

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Eighth Congressional District — No change.

  • Pete Stauber — 949.
  • Jen Schultz — 602.
  • Under/blank — 11.
  • Over/defective — 0.
  • Write-in — 0.

Governor

  • Steve Patterson and Matt Huff — 17.
  • James McCaskel and David Sandbeck — 13.
  • Scott Jensen and Matt Birk — 875 (+1, voter intent).
  • Tim Walz and Peggy Flanagan — 640.
  • Hugh McTavish and Mike Winter — 6.
  • Gabrielle M. Prosser and Kevin A. Dwire — 2.
  • Under/blank — 5.
  • Over/defective — 4 (-1, moved to Jensen).
  • Write-in — 0.

Fairfield Township

Eighth Congressional District — No change.

  • Stauber — 126.
  • Schultz — 75.
  • Under/blank — 1.
  • Over/defective — 0.
  • Write-in — 0.

Governor — No change.

  • Patterson/Huff — 2.
  • McCaskel/Sandbeck — 0.
  • Jensen/Birk — 119.
  • Walz/Flanagan — 77.
  • McTavish/Winter — 2.
  • Prosser/Dwire — 1.
  • Under/blank — 1.
  • Over/defective — 0.
  • Write-in — 0.

Manhattan Beach

Eighth Congressional District — No change.

  • Stauber — 27.
  • Schultz — 12.
  • Under/blank — 0.
  • Over/defective — 0.
  • Write-in — 0.

Governor — No change.

  • Patterson/Huff — 0.
  • McCaskel/Sandbeck — 1.
  • Jensen/Birk — 26.
  • Walz/Flanagan — 12. 
  • McTavish/Winter — 0.
  • Prosser/Dwire — 0.
  • Under/blank — 0.
  • Over/defective — 0.
  • Write-in — 0.

Perry Lake Township

Eighth Congressional District — No change.

  • Stauber — 117.
  • Schultz — 33.
  • Under/blank — 0.
  • Over/defective — 0.
  • Write-in — 0.

Governor

  • Patterson/Huff — 0. 
  • McCaskel/Sandbeck — 1.
  • Jensen/Birk — 110 (+1, voter intent).
  • Walz/Flanagan — 37.
  • McTavish/Winter — 0.
  • Prosser/Dwire — 0.
  • Under/blank — 2.
  • Over/defective — 0 (-1, moved to Jensen).
  • Write-in — 0.

CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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