St. Louis County: Franken gains; old ballot scanners cited

  • Article by: LARRY OAKES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 20, 2008 - 8:37 AM

The optical machines, used in 18 of St. Louis County's precincts, had trouble with thin lines connecting arrows.

DULUTH - There were no hanging chads, but broken arrows caused a stir Wednesday in Minnesota's Arrowhead region, and they've helped give Franken a net gain of 23 votes so far in St. Louis County.

Most of the day, county elections officials' hand-count totals matched the pre-recount results. But about midafternoon, officials started counting ballots from precincts with old "Eagle" optical scanners. These scanners, used in 18 of the county's 184 precincts, read a ballot that requires voters to draw a thick line connecting the back and front ends of an arrow that points to their candidate.

County Director of Elections Paul Tynjala said that when a voter makes only a thin line, the machine won't read the vote.

"These are older models of scanners than have been around since before 2000," Tynjala said. "We've been phasing them out, and I'd love to get rid of every one of them."

As county employees finished counting votes from Eveleth's six precincts, the problem was becoming clear. In Precinct 1, the machine count originally gave Coleman 85 votes and Franken 268. But the hand-count showed Coleman with 85 votes and Franken with 279, a gain of 11 for Franken.

In some Eagle scanner precincts, Coleman gained as many or more votes than Franken. But because St. Louis County leans Democratic, and the Iron Range portion of the county moreso, correction of an undercount would normally favor a Democrat, officials said.

At the end of the day, with 11 of the 18 Eagle machine precincts counted, Franken had gained 40 votes to Coleman's 12, a net gain of 28 for Franken. After challenges were factored, the net gain for Franken was 23 votes.  In all, 48 ballots were challenged -- 31 by Coleman's team and 17 by ranken's.

Franken representatives watching the recount said they'd been instructed not to grant interviews, but one was overheard saying: "I'm pretty happy right now; I'm watching Franken picking up quite a few votes on the Range."

Luke Friedrich, press secretary for the Coleman campaign, who observed the St. Louis County recount, said the campaign expected Franken to gain from the hand-count of the Eagle-machine ballots.

He said that was one of the reasons he spent the day in Duluth, to pay close attention to the expected shift. "Knowing the Eagle machines were up here in a Democratic stronghold, we lost significantly less [ground] today than we thought we might," he said.

Larry Oakes • 612-269-0504

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