REGIONAL— The recount of one of the state’s closest election contests this year is likely to take place the first week of December, although a firm date and locations won’t be known …
REGIONAL— The recount of one of the state’s closest election contests this year is likely to take place the first week of December, although a firm date and locations won’t be known until after the state canvassing board meets next Tuesday, Nov. 29.
That’s when the results from the Nov. 8 election are officially certified, an action which starts a 48-hour clock for candidates to request a recount.
That’s highly anticipated in House District 3A, where Ely Mayor Roger Skraba is clinging to a 10,868-10,853 vote lead, a difference of just 15 votes, or 0.07 percent, over DFL incumbent Rob Ecklund, of International Falls.
Given the sprawling nature of District 3A, which spreads over 200 miles across five northern Minnesota counties, the recount won’t be without its complications. According to St. Louis County Elections Supervisor Phil Chapman, the recounts in a race like this would typically take place at the county level, where the ballots are kept. But he said the details of this expected recount will be coordinated by the Secretary of State and is a process over which the Secretary has some discretion.
Election officials will conduct a full hand recount of all the relevant precincts, which could reveal any clerical errors or discover voter intent in ballots that voting machines otherwise didn’t read. The recount is typically conducted under the close monitoring of representatives from both candidates. Chapman said he expects the recount in St. Louis County, where the bulk of the votes in the district were cast, will take no more than a day.
While the margin in the race is miniscule, the prospect that a recount will change the outcome is relatively small. Cassondra Knudson, press spokesperson for Secretary of State Steve Simon, noted that by the time the ballots get to a recount they have already gone through a county canvass of results, followed by hand audits of selected precincts, followed by the second and final canvass at the state level.
Chapman, who has conducted a sizable number of recounts in his years as the county’s head of elections, said a variation of a few votes either way isn’t unusual in a recount. But does he remember a time when a recount changed the outcome of an election? “Not that I can recall,” he said.
A hard-fought contest
Ecklund, who survived a scare in his 2020 re-election bid against a young political newcomer from Littlefork, had always expected a tight contest with Skraba. Both candidates campaigned hard, so hard in fact that the 64-year-old Ecklund ended up with both arms in braces from knocking on literally thousands of doors.
Ecklund’s prospects weren’t helped by redistricting, which added a portion of northern Itasca County, a relative Republican stronghold, to the district. That new portion of the district accounted for a 321-vote margin for Skraba, many times his ultimate winning margin.
“I knew getting that part of the district was going to be tough,” said Ecklund. “I had hoped that Hoyt Lakes would balance it out. I spent a lot of time, there.” While Ecklund edged Skraba 484-462 in the East Range community, it wasn’t enough to offset Skraba’s gains in Itasca County.
Four years ago, Cook County made the difference for Ecklund, and the I-Falls DFLer garnered just under 70 percent of the vote there this time around, but it just wasn’t enough— at least barring a surprise in the pending recount.
Ironically, both candidates lost narrowly on their home turf. Skraba picked up 1,088 votes in Ecklund’s hometown, to Ecklund’s 1,056. Meanwhile, Ely residents backed Ecklund, with 868 votes to 829 for Skraba.
Skraba’s apparent victory now relies on the accuracy of an election process that he openly questioned earlier this year when he helped launch his campaign by sponsoring an Ely showing of “2000 Mules,” a widely-panned “documentary” that claimed an organized effort across multiple states to stuff ballot boxes in the 2020 presidential election. The movie, which Skraba helped to air at the Ely State Theater, provided virtually no evidence for the movie’s claims and individuals involved with the movie are currently facing a variety of lawsuits for defamation. Investigations by law enforcement into some of the allegations raised in the movie have found the claims to be unsupported.