A Live Audit of a Hand Count Changes the Results of the SD50 Elections

Yesterday I attended the Minnesota Republican Party Senate District 50 convention where most of the current leadership was replaced when a well-organized slate of candidates under the banner “Reclaim SD50” impressed delegates to score decisive election victories.

The overall convention will be reported on in another write-up, while this post will focus on the highlights of what I observed in the vote counting, tallying, and reporting room.

Auditing the Vote Tallying and Reporting

I am not a member of SD50 but was invited as a guest. I arrived at 9:45am and left a little before 5pm.

I observed vote counting, vote tallying, and vote reporting for about three hours in the makeup room adjacent to the auditorium of Jefferson High School in Bloomington, Minnesota.

While observing the vote counting and tallying, I noticed a particularly large oversight where the Excel functions were not summing some candidates’ vote tallies accurately.

Was this intentional?, it was later asked.

Intentional or not, elections must be done properly.

The person in charge of the election and balloting had already been embarrassed on stage earlier that day when it was revealed he gave out ballots to the former co-chair so she could vote before she left—this is not allowed.

This had me on higher alert during the vote counting and tallying process.

A Convenient Tie?

Returning to the vote reporting.

In one case a “tie” meant casting for lots or a coin toss was going to be used to break the “tie”.

From my perspective, this hand count procedure (with observers like me) meant that it was more difficult to cheat and less likely that mistakes were made. I’d been in the room for two hours at this point though watching multiple things happening.

This video shows the 59/59 “tie” between Louis Dennard and Matt Berner after the lower rows summing functions were fixed.

However the person responsible did not audit the Excel sum function of the two cells (F7 and F10) showing 59 votes prior to announcing there was a tie. He and the parliamentarian were preparing to draw for lots (from the hat in the first video above) or flip coin to determine the winner.

Something didn’t seem right. (It didn’t feel like this was being hurried up just because the custodian apparently had asked for us to finish up so as to clean the room.)

Having seen magicians and players in Survivor manipulate situations like this I wanted to first ensure that this tie was legitimate.

Moments before one of the vote talliers made eye contact to ask whether I’d checked if the computer was accurate.

Had we checked everything?, I thought once more.

No, we hadn’t.

“Wayne, can we audit those rows one more time?”

(After all, we had just audited the lower rows as seen in this video.)

The request was granted.

It turned out that the Excel sum formula on Matt Berner’s row was the same one being used on Louis Dennard’s, meaning that no matter what numbers were input for Matt Berner, his total votes (in F10) would always equal Louis Dennard’s total votes (in F7).

Once corrected, there was no tie after all.

Matt Berner was the clear winner with 87 votes.

What might have happened if there was no one observing this part of the process?

If there is full chain of custody on ballots and observation of every step of vote counting, vote tallying, and reporting, there are few ways remaining to “fix” an election, at least in a hand count with paper ballots as was used at SD50 on March 4, 2023. If there is a landslide, an oversight like this (whether intentional or not) may be the only way to change the outcome of the election. Therefore, if you are observing or running a convention using this Excel method to record votes, make sure the rows are summing accurately so that the candidates the people voted for are declared the rightful winners.

There are no guarantees that myself or anyone else observing was able to catch every mistake whether overt or accidental because there were multiple races being voted on. However increasing transparency and improving processes (such as having a master tally sheet for each race to back up the computer data entry) is recommended. The person responsible for running this election is also recommended to have additional training to ensure simple mistakes as were made are not made again.