City acknowledges missing ballots

Minneapolis Elections Director Cindy Reichert explains the ballot process Monday at City hall with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. An alleged 133 ballots are missing from a Dinkytown precinct.

Jules Ameel

Minneapolis Elections Director Cindy Reichert explains the ballot process Monday at City hall with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. An alleged 133 ballots are missing from a Dinkytown precinct.

Well into the Senate race recount and a day after Senate hopeful Al FrankenâÄôs camp alleged 133 ballots were missing from a Dinkytown precinct, the city of Minneapolis and the secretary of stateâÄôs office confirmed it. At the Ward 3, Precinct 1 site âÄî which covers most of Dinkytown âÄî 2,029 people voted but only 1,896 ballots were found in the recount. One of five sealed envelopes containing ballots is nowhere to be found, Minneapolis Elections Director Cindy Reichert said at a City Hall news conference Thursday. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak stood by. âÄúWeâÄôre still hopeful weâÄôre going to find it in some odd place,âÄù Reichert said, adding that the missing envelope is thinner than a typical one, which holds about 500 instead of just 133. Reichert explained Wednesday when the dispute came to light that the numbers didnâÄôt match because some ballots were counted twice, but she verified today that is not the case. The secretary of stateâÄôs office is keeping open the recount for the precinct in question until the at-issue ballots are accounted for, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann said. âÄúWe granted the city of Minneapolis an extension to take as much time as they need to find these ballots,âÄù he said, to âÄúmake sure that every vote is counted.âÄù ThereâÄôs no timeframe set for the search, and with the recount initially set to end Friday, the precinctâÄôs numbers will be the only uncertified ones from Minneapolis. Neither FrankenâÄôs campaign nor his Republican opponent Sen. Norm ColemanâÄôs camp has pointed to foul play. Reichert emphasized that it appears the ballots have simply been misplaced. âÄúAt this point, weâÄôre not ruling anything out,âÄù she said. âÄúI think itâÄôs highly unlikely that thereâÄôs foul play.âÄù City officials have begun interviewing the âÄúchain of custodyâÄù âÄî the succession of election workers who handled the ballots between the time they were cast and when they were taken to the Minneapolis warehouse, where they were supposed to show up in signed and sealed envelopes. Two election judges apparently delivered all five envelopes from the Dinkytown polling place to the warehouse. Reichert said sheâÄôs spoken to one of them, and he âÄúrecalls all ballots were there.âÄù The envelopes at the warehouse are numbered two-of-five, three-of-five, four-of-five and five-of-five, which Reichert said indicates that the missing ballots are likely still together in a sealed envelope, marked one-of-five. âÄúWe have no reason to believe that the envelope was opened at any other time,âÄù she said. Moving forward, Gelbmann said the canvassing board, which certifies recount numbers, will still meet as planned on Dec. 16. If the ballots arenâÄôt found by then, the city would likely report totals from the precinct as tallied on Election Day. The discrepancy would be clear, and the board would decide whether to certify the numbers. Until the ballots are located, the Franken campaign is committed to doggedly tracking recovery efforts. The area covered by the precinct has a significant student population, Franken spokesman Andy Barr said at a Thursday news conference. Students made time to vote, but now itâÄôs unclear if their ballots were counted. âÄúNow theyâÄôre being told they have a 133 in 2,029 chance that their ballot wonâÄôt count because itâÄôs gone missing,âÄù he said. âÄúThatâÄôs simply unacceptable in any sense of the term.âÄù