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Some ballots counted twice in tech snafu

Because of a mistake in the electronic counting process, Detroit Township results were counted twice in preliminary results in the recent primary election, but the mistake was caught before the final results were certified by the Becker County canvassing board.

The glitch did not change the primary winners, the same candidates won and advanced to the general election, but it did slightly change the  vote totals that each received, according to County Administrator Jack Ingstad.

The mistake was caught when Tanya Hockett, election coordinator at the county auditor-treasurer’s office, compared the paper results to the electronic results.

“The paper results were correct,” said county Information Technology Director Rick Kelsven. “Tanya did a very good job with the election for her first time,” he added. “Everything went really, really smooth, except for some of these (technology) counting issues we’ve had.”

Hockett worked on previous elections, assisting former Auditor-Treasurer Ryan Tangen, but there were a lot of little details he handled that she had to navigate on her own.

For example, the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office called the day after the election, saying that only 54 percent of Becker County precincts had reported vote totals.

“We had all our precincts counted,” Kelsven explained, “but if there are no absentee ballots in a precinct, you have to go onto the Secretary of State’s website and manually put “zero” down for that precinct. We didn’t know that. That’s something Ryan must have done on his own.”

It was one of several technology problems the county dealt with in the primary election, he said.

Another occurred when election workers ran all the absentee ballot through first, before regular ballots were counted.

It didn’t affect the results, but may have confused some election-watchers on the county website, because from the very beginning of the vote count, the county website showed that 48 of 48 precincts had reported.

Observers usually watch the number of precincts reporting tick upwards as the vote count goes on. To see all precincts reporting is usually the sign that the count is finished and the results are complete.

Lesson learned, said Kelsven. “For the general election, we’ll do the absentees last,” he said.

Kelsven, who has been with the county for 10 years and handled a number of elections, took responsibility for the double-count of Detroit Township.

“There are safeguards built into the software, it’s not something that can easily happen,” he said. But it was the last ballot card counted in a group of three or four, and he said he must have given the computer the wrong instructions, essentially pushing the wrong button, “though I can’t see myself ever doing that,” he said. “This is the third or fourth election with these machines, and it’s never happened before.”

The general election is Nov. 4.