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Recount under way in Washington County

Washington County election workers tally ballots in the governor's race while campaign observers look look on. Jon Avise photo.1 / 3
Washington County election judges began the process of counting 103,000 ballots as part of the statewide governor's race recount Monday morning.2 / 3
"This is so nerve-wracking," said Kim Dietz, an election judge from Stillwater. Here, she and judge Mike Ahrens, of Woodbury, sort ballots and listen to directions early in Monday's recount.3 / 3

Washington County election judges on Monday began the tedious process of recounting governor's race votes on ballots from each of the county's 90 precincts.

The hand count of 103,000 ballots in Washington County is expected to be complete by Wednesday, the county's top election official said. Counting is taking place at the Government Center in Stillwater.

The recount started as expected, said Kevin Corbid, director of property records and tax payer services.

"It's going smoothly," Corbid said. "There's very little change in the numbers from election night."

Heading into the recount, Democrat Mark Dayton held an 8,770-vote lead statewide over Republican Tom Emmer in the governor's race.

Corbid said a post-Election Day audit of four Washington County precincts resulted in only two changes to the county's vote totals -- one vote fewer for U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann and one vote fewer for governor candidate Tom Horner of the Independence Party.

"The other three (precincts) were completely correct," Corbid said.

Usually, results don't change, Corbid told the 45 volunteers before the hand recount started, "but it does happen."

A horde of observers watched over election judges seated at eight tables in the County Board Room, each with hundreds of optical scan ballots counted in stacks of 25. Ballots were sorted by judges into three piles: Dayton, Emmer, or "all others," and then counted -- or challenged -- by one of the campaign's supporters also seated at a table.

Challenges weren't plentiful in the early going -- only 11 were lodged among the first 12,000 ballots recounted by midday. Another "five or six" challenges were deemed frivolous under new rules intended to avoid the large number of ballots that were challenged by supporters of Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman during their 2008 U.S. Senate recount.

In 2008, 110 ballots were challenged in Washington County, Corbid said.

The new, tougher ballot-challenge rules were tested early Monday in Washington County, when an Emmer recount observer challenged that a blank ballot be counted for the Republican candidate.

"A blank vote is a vote for Emmer?" a Dayton recount observer asked. "Yep," replied an Emmer representative, repeating his request that the ballot be placed in the challenge pile.

Corbid expressed displeasure with the early challenges Monday. All came from Emmer's camp, which challenged that multiple ballots with no recorded vote for governor be counted for the Republican.

Corbid said those types of challenges from Emmer supporters were frivolous in nature and were "slowing us down."

Challenged ballots will be sent to the State Canvassing Board for review. Challenged ballots deemed frivolous by Washington County election officials won't be sent to state officials unless requested, Corbid said.

Check for updates on the recount in Washington County.