Recount in Minnesota Senate District 14 changes few votes

UPDATE - Senator-elect Jerry Relph won the recount and released the following statement Wednesday: "I am extremely pleased by the results of the recount, and thankful for the consistent support from supporters and the tireless work of campaign volunteers. I want to also thank the auditors of Sherburne, Benton, and Stearns County, as well as their recount staff. They ran a clean and efficient recount process. I look forward to turning to my work at the State Capitol in St. Paul and fulfilling my promise to work towards common sense solutions on behalf of my constituents."

Election judges under the watchful eye of DFL and GOP attorneys are conducting a ballot-by-ballot recount of votes in Minnesota Senate District 14, representing St. Cloud. The results will determine control of the State Senate.

Republican candidate Jerry Relph defeated the DFL candidate Dan Wolgamott on election night by 148 votes. The narrow margin fell within the half-percentage threshold for a state-sponsored recount.  VIEW ELECTION RESULTS - Minnesota Legislature

The recounts in 8 precincts from Benton County and Sherburne County on Monday produced a net gain of 2 votes for Wolgamott. Tuesday’s partial recount of ballots in Stearns County gave Wolgamott a net gain of another 4 votes. Unless major errors are found in the remaining ballots, the trend is not enough to overturn the results from election night.

“We need more,” conceded Brian Rice, Senate DFL attorney. 

Both Rice and Senate GOP attorney Reid LeBeau acknowledge that recent recounts in Minnesota do not find a lot of new votes. The accuracy and reliability of optical ballot scanners have resulted in very few errors or misread ballots. 

“I’ve been doing this for about ten years now and the machines have just gotten so good that if somebody puts even a light mark for a particular candidate it’s usually caught on election night and reflected on the unofficial votes,” said LeBeau.

Rice is also a veteran of dozens of recounts for DFL candidates and said the optical machines have taken hand counting out of the ballot tabulation.

“And so the error rate has dropped dramatically,” said Rice. “And you really only expect to see one or two votes per thousand change and even then you can’t assume that’s all one way or the other way.” 

Which is why recounting by hand is still done to confirm the integrity of the vote. 

“It’s important for the integrity of elections so that the public has confidence that their votes that were properly cast were properly counted and awarded to the person they intended to vote for,” said LeBeau. “This one also is of particular importance because the State Senate majority hangs in the balance.” 

As of election night, Republicans regained control of the State Senate with a 34-33 majority. A recount win by Wolgamott would flip the majority back to the DFL. But as election judges pour through the District 14 ballots it’s looking with increasing likelihood that the GOP’s Relph will win the election.

Stearns County officials wrapped up the recount on Tuesday afternoon with roughly 12,000 ballots left to inspect.  The recount will resume again at 8 a.m. on Wednesday.