Benanav ponders recount option, will decide Friday

Tom Ford

Citing discrepancies between ballot and voter signature numbers, St. Paul mayoral hopeful Jay Benanav refused to concede to state Sen. Randy Kelly, DFL-St. Paul, Wednesday after Tuesday’s election.

But Ramsey County election manager Joe Mansky said those problems would not affect results – Kelly garnered 29,819 votes and Benanav received 29,416 votes – and probably wouldn’t be solved if a recount is requested.

There were 59,761 ballots cast, but election officials counted only 57,347 voter signatures Tuesday.

“In the interest of ensuring accuracy and maintaining the integrity of the electoral process, I will wait until the county reconciles its vote totals and the numbers add up,” Benanav said.

Ben Goldfarb, Benanav’s campaign manager, said the discrepancies often occur as a result of human error. But because the differential is about six times as large as Kelly’s victory margin, he said, it’s necessary to get those numbers to comply.

While not alleging any impropriety on the part of election judges or Kelly’s campaign, Goldfarb said the only way to ensure fraud did not occur is to attach names to ballots.

Mansky said verifying signatures, which will take place over the next couple days, would not affect election results.

“There’s not much to question about the results themselves,” he said.

Since ballots are secret, he said, the county can’t match ballots to signatures, and thus no votes would be thrown out.

Goldfarb said hand counting all the signatures is a standard election procedure for the county.

“Once the numbers are reconciled, the people of St. Paul can have total confidence in the results of the election,” Benanav said.

Benanav said he will wait until the end of the week, when the signature recount is expected to be completed, before he will consider accepting the results.

Benanav did not call for a recount but said he has not ruled out that possibility.

“We haven’t closed any doors on any options yet,” he said.

Within seven days after the results are certified by the St. Paul City Council, Benanav has the right to request a recount by the county, for which he would have to pay $10,000, Mansky said.

Goldfarb said while they are “many, many steps” away from considering a recount, the campaign can pay the cost.

But Mansky said it’s unlikely a recount would change the outcome of the election.

During his 17 years monitoring elections, he said, no recount has resulted in the reversal of more than 71 votes in a contested election. Current Ramsey County figures put Kelly ahead by a 403-vote margin.

All ballots were counted electronically by machines with error rates of approximately .2 percent, he said.

“It’s a lot to overcome,” Mansky said.

Kelly, in an MPR interview Wednesday afternoon, said he assumes he is victorious and has begun forming his administration. St. Paul’s next mayor will officially take office on the first Monday in January.

Tom Ford covers St. Paul and welcomes comments at [email protected]