The search party looking for 133 missing ballots in the Minneapolis elections warehouse found some ballots all right, but not the ones they wanted.
This morning, 12 unsealed but apparently uncounted absentee ballots were found in a box filled with stacks of plastic-wrapped unused ballots. Minneapolis elections director Cindy Reichert speculated they were put there by a confused elections judge on Election Day and undiscovered until now, the final day of the historic U.S. Senate recount.
It's not clear whether the ballots will be counted, and their fate may be tied to the wrangling over whether to count rejected absentee ballots.
Still eluding the searchers was their main object -- the 133 ballots cast in a Dinkytown church, placed in an envelope, shipped to the warehouse and subsequently AWOL.
Elections officials thought the envelope was hiding somewhere among the voting machines, collapsible stands, shelving and boxes in the warehouse on Harding Street NE. Minneapolis election officials, joined by Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann, clean-election advocates and others, rolled the voting machines one by one across the floor, hoping to find an envelope underneath.
As usual, workers for the campaigns of Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken stood by as witnesses, on what was supposed to be the final day of their two-week vigil in the warehouse.
Speaking to Minnesota Public Radio this morning, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie compared the search to the needle in the haystack. He said that, in a careful way, officials are "dismantling the entire haystack."
"We really want to get our hands on those physical ballots," he said.
But the search was called off about 2 p.m. today, said one of the searchers, Mark Halvorson, director of Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota."I think we searched as thoroughly as we possibly could have," Halvorson said. That included an election official climbing on the 8-foot stacks of folded voting stations and peering in the cracks for the missing envelope. Halvorson said the head election judge recalls delivering all five envelopes to the warehouse. His car has been searched, but officials have not yet combed through University Lutheran Church of Hope, the precinct itself, he said. "I had hoped we would find it," Halvorson said. "We could speculate till the cows come home, I just don't know. I'm mystified."