WORTHINGTON -- Democratic Senate candidate Al Franken picked up one vote over incumbent Republican Norm Coleman after a Nobles County hand recount that took more than four and a half hours Wednesday in the Farmers Room of the Nobles County Government Center in Worthington.
The extra vote was likely caused by the voter marking a faint "x" instead of filling in the oval for Franken. It is believed the voting machine didn't pick up the mark on Election Day, but it was clearly ruled as a vote for Franken by election officials and Nobles County Auditor-Treasurer Sharon Balster.
In all, there were five ballots challenged during the local recount -- three by the Franken campaign and two by the Coleman campaign.
Two of those ballots were challenged by Franken's camp within the first hour of the ballot recount -- one from Indian Lake Township that showed the oval filled in for Coleman, but with a mark that appeared to be smudged lipstick near Franken's name on the ballot form, and a second, from Leota Township, that also appeared to be a vote for Coleman but had a coffee stain on the ballot. Of the other three challenged ballots, two had faint markings and the third had a faint circle inside the Franken oval, while the Coleman oval was completely filled in.
Hand counting of the ballots began in 50 of Minnesota's 106 official recount locations on Wednesday in hopes of declaring a winner in the Senate race. As of Wednesday morning, Coleman held a narrow 213-vote lead.
In Nobles County, 41 boxes filled with ballots awaited election officials and representatives from both the Coleman and Franken campaigns as Balster announced rules of the recount at 10 a.m. By 10:15 a.m., the first ballot boxes were unsealed and officials began sorting the ballots -- a pile for Franken, a pile for Coleman and a pile for "other," where ballots for Barkley were placed.
"Coleman, Franken, Barkley, Franken," read election official Bruce Heitkamp of Adrian as he surveyed ballots at one of three recount tables in the Farmer's Room of the Nobles County Government Center Wednesday morning in Worthington.
Heitkamp and two other election officials worked as sorter judges, flanked on either side by local representatives for the Coleman and Franken camps.
As an official ballot surveyor for the Coleman camp, Darlene Anderson of Worthington said she was impressed by Wednesday's recount process.
"It's orderly, there are rules to follow -- how it's done has been well thought out," she said. "Aren't we lucky that we're having this instead of a bloody revolution? I think this is nice."
Anderson said participating in the recount wasn't just to see that someone wins and someone loses.
"What's important about this is that the people's voice is heard," she said.
Joe Sheeran, site coordinator for the Franken campaign, was also enthused about the process.
"It's great to be here," Sheeran said. "It's an important process, and we're happy to be a part of it."
Election officials in Nobles County included several city clerks, as well as election administrators certified by the state, said Balster.
Jim Naumann, Brewster City Clerk, served as a table recount person. After his table finished sorting and counting the last of the ballot boxes, he said he was pleased to be finished with the process in one day.
"It was real interesting," Naumann said of the recount. "I think it shows that the process does work and the machines do an excellent job of counting."
Balster attributed the quicker-than-anticipated recount to "good people."
The same could be said for the voters.
"People went to the polls and did it correctly -- they filled in the ovals correctly," Balster said.
Pipestone County Auditor Joyce Steinhoff said the recount "went very well" for them on Wednesday as well. Working with two teams of three on the recount, the county started at 9 a.m. and finished at 3:15 p.m. At the end of the day, there were six ballots challenged by the Franken campaign and 10 ballots challenged by Coleman's camp.
"The voter intent was pretty clear, they were challenging if the oval wasn't completely filled in," Steinhoff said.
Murray County also con-ducted its recount on Wednesday, with just one ballot challenged by the time the work was finished. Murray County Auditor-Treasurer Heidi Winter said the ballot, challenged by the Franken camp, was from Murray Township and was considered an over-vote -- meaning the ballot appeared to have markings in two of the ovals.
"I was very pleased with how it went," said Winter of the recount.
In Cottonwood County, the recount will begin at 9 a.m. today in the meeting room of the Cottonwood County Courthouse in Windom. Jackson County will conduct the recount at 8 a.m. Monday at the county attorney's conference room in the Jackson County Courthouse in Jackson. Rock County officials will conduct the ballot recount at 9 a.m. Dec. 3 in the sheriff's meeting room inside the Law Enforcement Center, Luverne.