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Officials: Votes counted twice in Walsh County Commission election

The outcome of the Walsh County Commission election this past November potentially could be in jeopardy because of an apparent ballot-counting error.

Walsh County Locator

The outcome of the Walsh County Commission election this past November potentially could be in jeopardy because of an apparent ballot-counting error.

But that's not likely, officials say. The Walsh County Canvassing Board will meet at 1 p.m. Tuesday to sort it out.

At stake could be one County Commission seat.

Incumbent County Commissioner Lawrence Burianek lost to challenger Karen Anderson by 85 votes and to Incumbent Jack Karas by 99 votes. The top two vote-getters are elected to four-year terms.

The current official election results, which were certified by the county canvassing board in November, were: Karas, 2,681; Anderson, 2,667; and Burianek, 2.582.

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"All evidence points to a simple clerical error," State's Attorney Barb Whelan wrote in a letter announcing the canvassing board meeting.

Counting machine

She said the mistake was discovered when the federal court system entered the voter list into a data base for jury service. The list contained approximately 300 fewer names than the number of ballots certified to the secretary of state's office.

"When the federal court system requested that the list be updated to include these additional 300 names, the Secretary of State's Office discovered that those names did not exist," Whelan said. "In other words, it appears that approximately 300 ballots were counted twice."

According to Whelan, the incident occurred as a result of an Election Day ballot shortage in the city of Grafton. To correct the problem, officials photocopied 300 ballots.

Those ballots then were hand-tallied on the night of the election and the results were manually entered into the vote-counting machine.

"It appears that the hand-tally votes were mistakenly entered twice into the vote counter machine," she said. "This is our working theory at this point in time, but it can't be conclusively determined that this happened without further investigation."

No changes likely

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If that's the case, the outcome probably will not change, said North Dakota Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum.

Those 300 ballots simply would be subtracted from the vote totals.

"You'll have 300 ballots less, but it shouldn't change the margin," he said. "I'm 99.9 percent sure that what's going to happen. Only if you add the votes improperly, would it change the margin."

If that should happen, and the election outcome changes, state law has procedures on how to proceed, he said, but it's the local government's responsibility to recertify the election results.

Silrum and other members of the secretary of state's office will be in Grafton Tuesday for the canvassing board's meeting.

"It will be a good training exercise," he said. "What we do at the state level with elections is a whole lot different than what they do at the county level."

Besides observing the process, they are interested in finding out why the error had not been detected when the canvassing board initially met after the November election.

However, he said the county stepped up as soon as it was discovered.

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"I applaud them for being proactive and correcting the problem," he said.

Call Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1110; or send email to kbonham@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: WALSH COUNTY
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