Election and recount: The view from Washington County

I’m checking with several elections officials in Minnesota counties today, getting some insight into the pre- and post-election life.

This afternoon I talked with Kevin Corbid, who is in charge of elections in Washington County. He and a staff of four full-time people, augmented by another dozen or so temporary workers, had already invested hundreds of hours before Tuesday, processing absentee ballots and getting ready for Tuesday’s vote.

Unlike some counties, Washington County recovers all voting machinery and paperwork on the night of the election, inputs the information from new registration and, of course, tabulating and entering the results. Most of his staff left at 3 a.m. Wednesday. He left at 5, and was back at 8.

“During elections, I don’t care who wins, I normally root for whoever wins to win by a lot,” he joked this afternoon. That, of course, hasn’t worked out this time. As of 12:45, this afternoon, Norm Coleman led Al Franken by just 239 votes in the U.S. Senate race. Now, Corbid and his staff are finishing up the “canvassing” portion of Tuesday’s vote — doublechecking tabulation sheets. The county canvassing authorities had their meeting this morning.

“I’ve been doing this for eight years and I hold my breath every year,” he told me. “This morning we were looking at Stillwater’s 4th Precinct and one of the gentleman reading the summary tape said “643″ and our sheets said “645″ and we all looked up and I stopped breathing.. ‘Whoops, sorry… 643′ he said.”

The ballots from Tuesday’s election are in a locked room behind several other doors requiring a card reader to enter. “Observers” from both campaigns are sitting in the lobby.

“What are they doing?” I asked.

“Observing, I guess,” he said.

Corbid figures Washington County will complete the recount process in four days. They’ll start on Wednesday November 19 and continue through the following Saturday morning. Officials have to go through 137,000 ballots.

The public can attend the recount, although, Corbid notes, many people show up at the start of the recount to watch, and leave after a few hours.

The recount will occupy about 35 county employees, many of whom are also in the middle of other critical tasks at this time of the year — Truth in Taxation notices, converting to a new taxation system, finishing assessments, for example.

But in the end, he likes the message that this election is sending to the people of Minnesota. “Normally the process and the recounts lead to results that provide more confidence in the process,” he said.

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