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Ballot security tops Senate candidates' minds

ST. PAUL -- Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken agree ballots need to be preserved for a statewide recount in their U.S. Senate race, but their campaigns struggled to work out details.

As their race narrowed to a 206-vote margin late Monday afternoon, out of nearly 2.9 million votes cast, the campaigns discussed how to keep ballots secure. That is important because every one of those ballots will be examined by elections officials during a statewide recount beginning next week.

The thin margin mandates a recount, which likely will last past mid-December. The contest could end up in court.

Absentee ballots and those cast on Election Day are being stored in city and county facilities across the state so they can be counted manually after the state Canvassing Board officially calls for a recount, expected to happen a week from today.

How to make sure those ballots are safe, and not altered, dominated the campaigns Sunday and Monday. The campaigns' lawyers Monday afternoon continued to work on specific wording, but there was at least a general agreement to ask for more security around ballots.

"We are very strongly supportive of securing the ballots," Franken spokesman Andy Barr said.

However, he added, the legal document being negotiated does not need to be as specific as Coleman wants. "Different counties have different needs; different counties have different capacities."

"There have been some troubling reports," Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty said he looked into whether he can get involved, but lawyers told that he has no legal authority.

"Each county has a little different version of what it means to be 'secure,'" Pawlenty told reporters Monday.

Ballots are held in facilities ranging from a safe to a locked attic room.

Pawlenty said he especially wonders about an election worker who carried absentee ballots around in a car when they were supposed to be counted, as well as Franken and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama each getting 100 votes more in Mountain Iron than were reported election night.

Coleman's campaign has sent volunteers to watch rooms containing ballots in some counties.

The secretary of state's office spokesman said a new ballot-security effort is not needed.

"Minnesota law clearly spells out all procedures covering security of ballots and other election materials," John Aiken said. "These laws have been carefully executed by Minnesota's county and local election officials who have diligently safeguarded all election materials."

Aiken said the office already has reminded local elections officials twice of ballot security laws.

On Monday, county canvassing boards met to approve the pre-recount vote totals.

Some county auditors may take advantage of a state law to transfer recount duties.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.