ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Morrison County performs 2 recounts in races with wide margins

Because the results in the two commissioner districts fell well outside of the margin at which public funds can be spent on a recount — for county offices, it must be less than one-half of 1% — these were considered discretionary and funded by the candidates themselves.

4151280+0418_voting-booth.jpg
The candidates who challenged seated commissioners sought the recounts despite the hefty spreads placing them on the losing end.
We are part of The Trust Project.

LITTLE FALLS — Recounts of ballots cast in two Morrison County Board races took place late last month, affirming the convincing incumbent victories as reported on election night.

The candidates who challenged seated commissioners sought the recounts despite the hefty spreads placing them on the losing end. In District 3, Commissioner Randy H. Winscher earned 1,594 votes to Jeremy J. Pekula’s 1,100, an 18.27% margin of victory. Commissioner Greg Blaine’s win in District 5 was even more resounding, as he earned more than twice as many votes at 1,934 as challenger Renè Krousey, who garnered 957.

Pekula gained one vote originally tabulated by the machine as an undervote. This occurred when election judges completing the recount agreed on the voter’s intent on the ballot at issue, which featured a mark outside the designated bubble. Otherwise, the recount results in both races were a perfect match.

122721.N.BD.CountyAttorneyDecision.jpg
Jeremy Pekula speaks during a Dec. 14, 2021, County Board meeting to repeat a request for a forensic audit of the 2020 election results in Crow Wing County. Pekula was among a standing-room-only crowd, several of whom forwarded unproven or false accusations of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

Because the results in the two commissioner districts fell well outside of the margin at which public funds can be spent on a recount — for county offices, it must be less than one-half of 1% — these were considered discretionary and funded by the candidates themselves.

Pekula and Krousey said they pursued the recounts to investigate the elections process, not because they believed the results could be overturned.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Just because of all the things that I’ve heard about the corruption and fraud with the machines and voting and things like that. So it was just to kind of keep everybody honest,” Krousey said during a Nov. 29 phone interview. “ … I didn’t feel that recounting the votes, that it was going to show that I won or anything like that. But I feel comfortable with what was done and for the part that we did, you know, I’m fine with all of that. I appreciate that they gave us the opportunity to do that and everyone was so kind that day.”

Read more
A bill being fast-tracked by Democrats through the Legislature would require Minnesota utilities to have carbon-free electricity generation. It now awaits a vote of the full Senate.
The CROWN Act adds natural hairstyles and textures to the definition of race in the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Also: A bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday now awaits a vote in the House.
The Minnesota Legislature failed to pass a significant public infrastructure borrowing bill during the last session, leaving many local projects on hold.
Documents marked as classified were discovered at Pence's Indiana home last week. Biden and Trump are both facing special counsel investigations by the Justice Department.
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.
It's been a snowy winter to date and due to the amount of snow along parking lanes and shoulders throughout many of the routes, the city declared a snow emergency.
Knollwood residents gathered at city hall for an assessment hearing regarding assessments for the upcoming Knollwood Improvement Project tentatively planned for 2023.
The policy would include temperature and directional light restrictions.
Crisis pregnancy centers received almost $3 million in taxpayer funds in 2022. Soon, sharing only medically accurate information could be a prerequisite for funding.
The decision to ban Trump was a polarizing one for Meta, which prior to the Trump suspension had never blocked the account of a sitting head of state for violating its content rules.
Finalists include names like "Clearopathra" and "Just Scraping By."
Too many seem willing to turn it all over to authoritarian leadership, no matter how devoid of any redeeming qualities, to allow self-indulgence and the dark gods of violence.
Among other items, a Minnesota soybean leader said the Port of Duluth is still a major factor for success for the state and the country.
The final piece, released Tuesday, Jan. 24, includes what the governor touted as the biggest tax cut in Minnesota history.
City staff will bring forth revisions in terms of dealing with long grass, unshoveled sidewalks, garbage and animal feces.
The Northern Lights Express, or NLX, would connect downtown Minneapolis to the St. Louis County Depot in Duluth. Stops are planned in Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinckley and Superior, Wis. 
The proposals called for expanding affordable health care by establishing a MinnesotaCare public option and more than a billion dollars in affordable housing proposals over the next four years.
The verdict marks the end of the second major sedition trial against members of the extremist group, who were among the hundreds who attacked the Capitol in 2021.
The measure affects Brainerd's residentially zoned neighborhoods.
Area listings of agendas
The first piece of climate legislation to see significant movement this session is a bill that would require Minnesota utilities to have 100% carbon-free electricity generation by 2040.
Four applicants were interviewed and Jeff Phillips was appointed for the open city council seat previously held by John Ward.
In the federal government's crackdown on sex trafficking in the '50s, law enforcement allied with trafficking victims, whose testimonies helped fuel the arrests of more than 100 in the Midwest.
Brainerd City Council members favored exemptions for snowblowers from the city's noise ordinance. The mayor disagreed.
The DNR is asking for a letter of support in acquiring some parcels currently owned by The Conservation Fund in Cass County. Townships want Wildlife Management Area designation.
DFL lawmakers are fast-tracking abortion protections through the capitol. House members voted 69-65 Thursday to pass their version of the bill, with just one DFLer joining Republicans in opposition.
Billions would go to support a paid family and medical leave program and other projects aimed at improving Minnesota’s competitiveness.
Parking will be banned from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20.
While Minnesota’s labor force grew slightly in the last month of 2022, the state lost jobs overall, according to the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Council members directed to staff to draw up ordinance amendments that would allow residents to have four chickens on top of the other pets allowed.

In an emailed statement, Pekula said he exercised his lawful ability to seek a recount because he believes Minnesotans were denied the ability to verify any election that took place in 2020. In the past year, Pekula regularly appeared as part of a citizen group raising concerns about election fraud at Crow Wing County Board meetings.

“The only thing this recount, and the District 5 recount proved was that the tabulating machines were not programmed to influence those 2 specific races and they accurately scanned the ovals (except 1 ballot) of those 2 races but it did NOT prove that any of the other races at the top of the ticket, weren’t affected by possible preprogramming of the ES&S (Election Systems & Software) DS200 machines,” Pekula’s statement said, referencing the elections equipment in use in Morrison County.

Matt LeBlanc - Morrison County Administrator.jpg
Matt LeBlanc, Morrison County administrator.

Morrison County Administrator Matt LeBlanc said the recounts performed Nov. 21 and Nov. 23 confirmed the accuracy of the machines tabulating the paper ballots cast by the county’s voters. Morrison County also checked vote tallies in state and federal offices in two precincts as part of its state law-required post-election review, which also affirmed results, according to LeBlanc.

“The machine did exactly what it was supposed to do, based on the function of the machine,” LeBlanc said in a Nov. 29 phone interview. “ … I will tell you, as a result of the entire process, there was a high amount of appreciation and gratitude expressed by those that were able to witness how the recount was conducted. And really, I may have heard some affirmation of the consistencies of the way the elections were done in the county.”

Costs of the recounts

Pekula and Krousey were each billed $3,000, a fee determined in the days following the recount requests, according to LeBlanc. A fee to fulfill such a request had never before been set in Morrison County, he said, meaning it’s likely the first time discretionary recounts took place there for a county-level position. The county also set a $20 hourly wage for the participating election judges.

“That (the fee) was based on approximate staff time to administer the recount, from set up, training, through the execution and then the conclusion or the recovery from it, as well as a comparison with Crow Wing, which I was informed Crow Wing had set a fee at $3,500,” LeBlanc said.

Crow Wing County Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson said fees are set based on the level of office for which a recount is requested. Erickson confirmed a recount in a county commissioner race would cost the candidate $3,500, while the fee in a countywide race, like sheriff, would be $5,000.

ADVERTISEMENT

Krousey said she tapped into her savings to cover the cost.

“I think $3,000 is pretty outrageous,” Krousey said. “I don’t know what that money went to, because … it only took like two hours to recount. So I don’t know where the rest of the money’s going to.

“ … I just figure probably they did such an enormous amount to deter people from doing this, from doing a recount. Maybe. I don’t know — that’s just my opinion.”

Pekula, meanwhile, raised money with a GiveSendGo crowdfunding campaign to cover the cost of the recount in his race.

“It was just freedom loving Americans, that know how important exposing and removing our election corruption truly is, that donated to the cause,” Pekula wrote by email in response to follow-up questions about the costs.

Pekula said Friday it was too early to give his full opinion on the cost, since he was waiting for an itemized receipt of how the $3,000 was spent. He noted county staff who took part in both recounts were already on the clock and pointed out the short time frame in which the recounts were completed.

“I understand the reason for having the fee but we need to see how that money is being spent by our county,” Pekula wrote.

LeBlanc said $3,000 appears to be an appropriate fee with all things considered.

ADVERTISEMENT

“What’s very hard to determine is what work didn’t get done because there was a recount and the staff that I pulled out for that,” LeBlanc said. “The tertiary, ancillary costs to it is what is going to be looked at very closely. Now, we wanted to ensure that no cost was passed on to taxpayers due to a recount, but we also weren’t using it as a way for the county — as a revenue source.”

Doubts persist

After the recounts, both losing candidates continued to raise doubts about the election process in general.

Krousey said while recounted votes matched those reported on election night, some questions can’t be answered through a recount alone.

“Say if there was — and I’m not saying that there was — but say a ballot were just made up extra, I don’t have proof of that. Like you hear in the … presidential race, you know, maybe somebody’s bringing box loads of ballots. So the recount didn’t verify that. It just verified that the number was accurate to what they had given out,” Krousey said.

Pekula raised numerous concerns with how the recount procedure is governed by state law, including what can be challenged. While candidates may challenge election judges’ determinations of voter intent on a given ballot, whether a ballot should have been accepted or its legitimacy is not up for discussion during the process.

Say if there was — and I’m not saying that there was — but say a ballot were just made up extra, I don’t have proof of that.
Renè Krousey

Both Pekula and Krousey noted a small number of ballots in their races failed to include initials from two different election judges, which is a required step, according to the 2022 Election Judge Guide from the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State. Pekula also questioned some ballots in his race featuring the same first and last initial on both lines. While he acknowledged two election judges had the same initials, “JS,” in that precinct, Pekula said they were written identically.

“Whether it’s 5 or 125 ballots that aren’t properly initialed by 2 Election Judges, they do not follow the legal voting process and they should not be considered valid because the law says each ballot MUST be initialed by 2 election judges,” Pekula wrote.

While the law does require two sets of initials, it also allows for human error on this particular step. According to Minnesota statute , if the number of ballots matches the number expected to be counted, “the absence of either or both sets of initials of the election judges does not, by itself, disqualify the vote from being counted and must not be the basis of a challenge in a recount.”

Erik Van Mechelen, failed Minnesota secretary of state candidate, stands and gestures while speaking.
Erik Van Mechelen, former Republican candidate for Minnesota secretary of state who lost in the Aug. 9 primary election, stands to speak from the audience during the Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, Crow Wing County Board meeting. The board passed a resolution to strengthen post-election review requirements and Van Mechelen said the resolution did nothing to increase transparency in his view.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Erik van Mechelen, who lost the Republican primary for secretary of state earlier this year and published a book claiming voting machines stole the 2020 election, attended Pekula’s recount. On Substack, van Mechelen wrote the most significant anomaly in his view was unique and identical markings seen on multiple ballots, a “strange repeated shape” he said looked like a pumpkin or a sideways Q.

LeBlanc said the reason for this was clear: the markings were, in fact, made by machines — those set up to assist those with disabilities who might otherwise be unable to fill out their ballots by hand with a pen. Voters may use the OmniBallot assistive devices to mark their ballots. The device returns the marked ballot to the voter for verification and voters must still place the ballot through the tabulator as a second step.

“His concern seemed to be that they were machine fabricated markings. That’s absolutely true,” LeBlanc said. “He made mention of, ‘Well, then I think we should be able to audit the number of people that use the marking assist machine with the number of ballots that were machine marked,’ which is kind of an interesting point. However, we have some places that there are very few people who use such a machine and if you require something like that, you are going to — quickly, we get into violating somebody’s right to privacy on how they vote.”

This country was founded as a Constitutional Republic and it can only continue being that with totally free, fair, and 100% transparent elections which we have not had in decades.
Jeremy Pekula

Pekula said in the end, the recounts proved to him there are flaws and vulnerabilities in current election processes.

“We, as citizen investigators, were able to see firsthand where and how potential fraud is still not going to be found when Discretionary Recounts and Post Election Reviews (PER) only verify ovals made on a ballot,” Pekula’s statement said.

“ … This country was founded as a Constitutional Republic and it can only continue being that with totally free, fair, and 100% transparent elections which we have not had in decades. The only way to change the direction of this country is for the people of this country to rightfully, and Constitutionally, take back their elections.”

Incumbent responds

Commissioner Blaine, who defeated Krousey to return to the County Board for a second full term, said he wasn’t surprised by the recount request in his race despite the nearly 1,000-vote margin. He said he recognizes people have the right to seek a recount, but he also believes it’s fair for them to pay for it themselves when the margin is so large.

Commissioner Winscher did not return a request for comment.

Greg Blaine headshot
Morrison County Commissioner Greg Blaine.
Contributed (2022)

“I think the view that was revealed to the public in the election process is that this was their issue, election integrity. And they were questioning election integrity here in Morrison County,” Blaine said during a Nov. 29 phone interview. “I respect the process and for me in serving in governance, process is a big word. … Process is what gives us our integrity and our credibility. And so when you’re participating in governance on whatever level, it is respect for that process that, as I say, gives you your credibility with people that you serve.”

Blaine — who represented Morrison, Cass and Crow Wing counties as a Republican in the Minnesota Legislature between 2001 and 2006 — said his focus during his commissioner campaign remained on county issues rather than matters outside of the scope of his duties.

“Election integrity, for some reason, seemed to come to the forefront of their agenda, and not something that was, let’s say, necessarily in the realm of county government,” Blaine said. “ … There wasn’t talk about, you know, roads, or deliverance of services within health and human services, or budget, finance, the levy — the fiscal parts of running county government.

“ … I stayed very disciplined to talk about the issues that matter to the taxpayers and the voters in Morrison County.”

Blaine said he predicted the numbers wouldn’t change after a recount, and his prediction came true.

“I’ve had individuals who asked me, ‘Why do you feel so confident that they’ll be the same?’ And I responded to them this way: 'We have tremendous professionals in the county and county government in our auditor/treasurer’s office, who have worked for 30-plus years on elections,'” Blaine said. “Their work ethic, their accountability and their integrity in my mind is beyond question. If someone wants to engage in the process, I will stand right next to those individuals with the confidence that the fruits of their work will reveal nothing but the highest levels of integrity and transparency. And that’s what happened.”

Blaine said he couldn’t speak for election processes outside of Morrison County, but he’s bothered by persistent doubts in the country’s elections perpetuated in some media outlets.

“These two individuals who exercised their right to ask for a recount have done something that maybe they didn’t even realize going into this, that this would just further cement that understanding with the electorate out there that they can be confident of the election process in Morrison County, Minnesota,” Blaine said.

“ … When we have individuals, groups, people in the media, or people in positions of influence who cast a shadow over voter integrity — and especially when we get to a local level like this — it does not help in governance and it does not help in our society. We need to be able to have that trust.”

UPDATE: This story was updated to correct the threshold at which a publicly funded recount would occur.

The Dispatch regrets the error.

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.
What To Read Next
Billie Ray Clark was convicted of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Brainerd in 2020.
The administration is bringing back an Obama-era decision, later reversed by Trump, that bans new mineral leases on 225,500 acres of the Superior National Forest for the next two decades.
This year, the Minnesota Telecom Alliance Foundation will award six scholarships to high school seniors graduating in 2023.
ReadyCare is a special same-day clinic for non-life-threatening injuries and illnesses.