A judge has ordered Ramsey County election officials to open and count 318 absentee ballots that were properly cast but misplaced and went uncounted in election returns released two weeks ago.

Ramsey County District Judge John Guthmann agreed to issue the order Thursday after Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, one of 131 candidates on the misplaced ballots, petitioned the court to have them counted. An attorney for Ramsey County agreed the votes should be tallied.

The county’s canvassing board acknowledged the “obvious error” at an emergency meeting Wednesday. County officials said they didn’t believe the additional ballots could flip any of the races, based on where the voters lived, but they notified all candidates whose races might be affected.

Under state law, the deadline to automatically count those ballots had already passed and a court order was required to tally them.

Becker-Finn, an attorney who represents five northern Ramsey County suburbs, said she knew that filing the petition quickly would enable the votes to be counted before the state canvassing board meets on Tuesday to certify election results.

She won more than 60% of the 25,000 votes cast in her District 42B race, and only one of the misplaced ballots was cast for her district, according to county data.

“I thought it was important someone take action to make sure these ballots are counted,” Becker-Finn said. “It is incredibly important the public has faith in the integrity of the system.”

Guthmann said that county election staffers should follow their protocols to ensure that none of the 318 ballots are duplicates before adding them to vote totals.

According to the canvassing board, the 318 absentee ballots were cast on Saturday, Oct. 31, at the Ramsey County elections office in St. Paul. The ballots were discovered Friday, Nov. 13 — 10 days after the election — as part of a postelection review process, when staffers found them in signature envelopes in a sealed box.

“The box was properly labeled as requiring processing but had been misplaced in an area of a secure storage facility designated for sealed boxes of processed ballots,” according to the canvassing board. No other errors were found, the board said.

The absentee ballots were cast for races in 71 St. Paul precincts, eight Maplewood precincts, and one precinct each in North St. Paul, Roseville, Shoreview, Vadnais Heights, White Bear Lake and White Bear Township.

According to county figures, 297,159 Ramsey County voters cast ballots in the 2020 general election. Of that total, 103,614 voters cast ballots in person on Election Day — nearly 35% — while 193,545 cast absentee or early votes.

Members of the canvassing board include Ramsey County Commissioners Toni Carter and Trista MatasCastillo, St. Paul City Clerk Shari Moore, county Deputy Auditor Heather Bestler and Deputy Court Administrator Michael Upton.

 

Correction: Previous versions of this article misstated the title of Ramsey County District Judge John Guthmann.