On Monday, Mower County Auditor Doug Groh stopped all counting to question an observer from the Al Franken campaign who wanted to challenge a ballot. The challenge had been labeled as frivolous by Groh.
Holding up the challenged ballot he says “I hope you have a clear understanding on what voter intent is. We have our jobs to do. Election judges have their jobs to do. We have our job to do.”
This incident had apparently been going on for several minutes before this video was shot by another Franken volunteer Laura Askelin who was taking a vacation day from her job with AFSME to observe the recount for the Franken campaign.
According to an Askelin, Groh continued to speak until the observer stated “I will withdraw if you stop humiliating me”. The observer was brought to tears at this point. This happens at about 4 minutes into the video. The observer is the woman with the headbnd and her back to the camera. Even without seeing her face, you can see that she is visually upset. After that, Groh is heard to say “the candidate for Franken withdraws the challenge.
At the end of the day, the Franken campaign asked that the ballot in question be examined again. The precinct box was reopened, recounted and this time was successfully challenged.
Reached on Wednesday, Groh says the observer had stated that “she did not know what she was doing” when Groh questioned her on the statutes regarding voter intent. In reviewing the challenged ballots he asked her “what [the] basis of the challenge [was]. She was unable to answer.”
Groh continues that he stopped the count to address the room because he “wanted to make sure they had an understanding of what they were to look at so we could facilitate the process and be done with that count in a timely manner.”
Later that afternoon other Franken observers asked to review that precinct’s ballots again. They challenged three ballots including the original ballot in question.
Voices were again raised when Dale Chibester, Mower County DFL Chair, made a challenge. “I can reject this challenge. I call it frivolous. I work for the Secretary of State” said Groh. Debate on the ballot continued until Groh abruptly ended the conversation and allowed the challenge to stand.
Challenges were not the only problem in Austin. One tabled counted the same precinct eight times an endeavor that took multiple hours. The number of ballots recounted stubbornly refused to match the number of ballots supposedly in the box. When counters asked if they could review the number of absentee ballots cast in the precinct in an attempt to square the count they were denied.
Disputes on others processes emerged. Josh [last name withheld] an experienced Franken recount volunteer, began to serve as an observer in the afternoon. When Groh directed an elections official to make count changes to the official machine results tape Josh objected that any changes needed to be made separately and not on the original tape. Groh overruled him and asked the elections official to continue with the change.
Grow explains that the Secretary of State had already received an unaltered version of the election results tape. One version also is retained by the precinct. The change was made on a third tape, in the margin of the tape. The vote needed modification due to a military ballot whose duplicate was not counted on election day. Duplicates of military ballots are created because the ballot returned by military voters cannot go through the counting machines.
Monday was the first and only day Mower County recounted its 19,302 ballots. The end result was a 3 vote losss for Coleman, a two vote loss for Franken netting the Franken campaign a one vote gain. The Coleman campaign challeneged 6 ballots, the Franken campaign challenged 8 ballots. None of the challenged ballots are included in the recounted totals. The recount took place in the Courthouse in Austin, MN.
COPY: Mike McIntee and Noah Kunin
PHOTO: Linda Gibeau
VIDEO: Laura Askelin