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Crow Wing County to publicly test voting machines

Members of the public are invited to the county's land services building Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to witness a demonstration of the machines.

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Voters wait at the elections and voting counter on the second floor of the historic Crow Wing County Courthouse Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, in Brainerd. The first and second floors of the courthouse have been busy with voters requesting absentee ballots and voting. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Crow Wing County election judges will test out voting equipment this week, and the public is invited to observe.

Counties are required to test their equipment within 14 days of each election. Crow Wing County judges will complete this testing process at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, July 27 and 28, and again at 10 a.m. Friday, July 29, in Meeting Rooms 1 and 2 on the lower level of the Crow Wing County Land Services Building. Members of the public are invited to observe the proceedings.

Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson said during the testing, judges from cities and townships will feed pre-marked ballots into the voting machines to demonstrate how the machines count each ballot exactly as they are marked.

The demonstration will also show how the machines catch any ballots that are incorrectly marked. If a voter votes for too many candidates or votes across party lines in the primary, the machine will alert them of the error and give them an opportunity to correct the mistake, Erickson said. If the voter ignores the alert and casts the incorrect ballot, the machine will count the votes that were marked correctly, she added, but not those marked incorrectly.

Two additional election judges — one from each political party — will be on hand to verify the results.

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Election integrity

The testing process begins the day after a dozen residents addressed the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, July 26, asking commissioners to do everything in their power to ensure the integrity of the election and bringing concerns about this year’s voting tabulators.

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When counties use new voting systems for the first time, state statute requires them to notify the public at least 60 days prior to an election and provide voters a demonstration in a public place during the six weeks ahead of the election.

Crow Wing County is using the same Dominion voting tabulators it has used since 2018 for the 2022 elections, but those tabulators have a software system upgrade this year, Erickson said. The voting system itself, she said, is the same, though those who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting argued the upgraded software meets the threshold for the need to notify the public 60 days ahead of the election. Most of the speakers then asked the board to pass a resolution stating county officials would hand count the votes for at least the primary election and comply with the 60-day rule ahead of the general election.

Erickson said that test is not warranted, as the tabulators have not changed. When the county moved to the Dominion voting machines from a different company in 2018, county officials followed the statute in question by notifying voters and offering them demonstrations.

Commissioner Paul Koering asked if the county could both hand count the ballots and use the machines, but Erickson said that is not possible with the optimal scanning equipment. Any member of the public or candidate can, however, request and pay for a hand recount of any office on the ballot after the results are certified.

Additionally, after the general election, counties are required to perform an audit in which they randomly draw a certain number of precincts and hand count ballots to ensure they match up with the tabulator results. Based on Crow Wing County’s voter numbers, Erickson said the county is required to randomly select two precincts but may have to draw a third if at least one does not have at least 150 voters.

If there is a difference of more than two ballots, the county is required to draw additional precincts and perform more hand counts. Crow Wing County has never had to do a second count, Erickson said.

Koering asked if the county could opt to select more than just the two precincts, and Erickson said she did not see a problem with that, but commissioners would have to check with the county attorney.

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Koering told those present Tuesday he recently contacted Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, who he believes is a trusted official in the election process, and she said voting machines are more accurate than a hand count. Erickson agreed, saying there is always room for error when humans are involved, and hand recounts throughout the county and the state she is aware of have always upheld the machine results.

Koering added he does not see how a hand count would quell the concerns of those who are distrustful of the voting machines, as there would be no way to see if the machines and hand counts match.

The board did not take any action on the request to pass a resolution for hand counting the primary election ballots.

Preparing for the primary

All registered voters in Crow Wing County can expect postcards in the mail this week with updated election information.

The cards will outline changes from this year’s redistricting and include a voter’s polling place, precinct and election districts for local and state races, beginning with the Aug. 9 primary.

Absentee voting for the primary is open. Voters can visit mnvotes.org to apply for an absentee ballot, find their polling place, check their registration status and view a sample ballot for their precinct.

Voters who want to vote early can come to the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse during regular business hours. Residents may vote by absentee ballot in person from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, at the Elections Office, 326 Laurel St., Brainerd, until Monday, Aug. 8.

Additional early voting hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6.

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Editor's Note: The time was corrected in this story for the Friday test.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

Related Topics: CROW WING COUNTYCROW WING COUNTY BOARDGOVERNMENT AND POLITICSELECTION 2022
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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