County officials said a wrong button was clicked in reporting results, but Republicans said the error backed need for a recount.
The ill-fated click of a button in Hennepin County on election night launched a storm of protest Wednesday from Republican leaders.
State GOP Chairman Tony Sutton insisted that faulty vote reporting in the county, the state's largest DFL stronghold, underscored the need for a recount in the race for governor between Mark Dayton and Tom Emmer.
"Something doesn't smell right with those Hennepin County situations last night with how the votes were reported, and so we are going to be very, very aggressive through this recount process that we anticipate," Sutton said at a morning news conference.
Hennepin County elections manager Rachel Smith said there was nothing fishy about what happened: About 10 p.m. Tuesday, staffers in her Government Center offices were seeking to update the county's precinct returns for the Secretary of State's website. A staff person transmitting a large file of returns, she said, mistakenly hit "Add" rather than "Replace."
Updated returns were added to votes already entered, when they should have replaced them, Smith said. The subsequent county vote count was 880,000 -- nearly double the actual Hennepin vote total of 470,470.
"We immediately saw there was a problem," Smith said. "Our first response was to take the results down from our website and the state site, but we realized we had to fix it before we got that far."
Staffers corrected the results on the county's website by 11 p.m. But computer crashes delayed corrections on the state's website for another hour and a half, Smith said.
No mistakes in counting
Since that time, results posted online have been as accurate as unofficial results can be, she said. The returns won't become official until Smith's staff checks votes and verifies results, which will then go to the county canvassing board for certification Monday.
With all precincts reporting, the unofficial Hennepin County tally shows Dayton with 237,995 votes (51 percent), Emmer with 168,518 (36 percent), and Horner with 57,116 (12 percent).
"This was not an error in counting results, but a temporary error in reporting results," Smith said.
Nor was it a problem with the election software system, which she said is widely used, has federal and state certifications, and had been tested before Election Day.
Smith said that Tony Trimble, a Republican Party lawyer who was a key player on Norm Coleman's recount team two years ago, called her about 11 p.m. on election night. Smith said she explained what happened and gave Trimble the accurate figures.
"It was a very cordial discussion, he thanked me and that was it," she said.
On Wednesday Trimble stood next to Sutton as the party chair said that Hennepin County's "400,000 vote mistake ... resulted in a 60,000 vote swing in the governor's race."
Smith noted that the flawed results doubled the numbers for everyone, so the percentages didn't change. People who doubt the county's figures, she said, will be able to examine the machine-printed precinct tapes and vote totals.
Also Wednesday, Smith said that she will review incident logs from polling places to see if there was an orchestrated effort to challenge voters and election judges on Election Day.
Several precincts reported that people calling themselves "poll observers" questioned the eligibility of voters and hovered over judges as they worked. Most were self-described Republicans, she said.
Party leaders need to understand that no one is permitted to loiter at polling places, and that someone's eligibility can be challenged only by someone with personal knowledge of the voter, she said.
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455