By Joel Stottrup
It was an unusually late time to end the shift for the staff tallying the votes in the Mille Lacs County Auditor-Treasurer’s office in the county’s historic courthouse this presidential election.
Auditor Treasurer Phil Thompson and assistant Laurie Tinklenberg didn’t finish the count until 3:30 a.m. and three other workers put in almost as many hours, leaving about an hour or so earlier.
“We never anticipated this delay; we’re usually done by midnight,” said Tinklenberg as she and Thompson finished up the vote tally. But a certain event took place at the Mille Lacs auditor-treasurer’s office Tuesday along with a limited number of vote counting machines caused the delay, Thompson and Tinklenberg explained.
One of the factors, the two said, was the high number of absentee votes cast in this election, something approaching 2,000 in Mille Lacs County. “That many absentees bogged us down,” Thompson said.
Then there was the situation of a high number of people registering on election day at the courthouse. Thompson explained that four of the county’s township precincts are not set up for voting in the township, so the registered voters mail in their ballots. The registered voters in those townships then mail in their ballots, that the auditor-treasurer’s office had sent out to them.
But there are cases where someone moves into a township and they are therefore not registered there, Thompson continued. That means they have to come into the courthouse to register and then vote.
On election day Thompson’s staff had to deal with 50 non registered voters from the four mail-in townships of Mudgett, Hayland, Lewis and Bradbury. There is a whole process to get each one of these people registered, including filling out a form or two, providing labels, and explaining what they need to do to vote, Tinklenberg.
Because of that interruption, starting the process of counting mail-in and absentee ballots was delayed by at least three hours, Tibnklenberg and Thompson noted. They had hoped, they said, to begin opening those ballot envelopes much earlier than they did and arranging them so that they could count them quickly on election night.
When the staff members did get started, they were hampered in moving quickly, by only having three vote counting machines, Thompson said.
A lot more machines and a lot more workers to operate them would have helped make up for the lost time, Thompson said.
Mille Lacs County had 944 absentee ballots filled out this election, along with 405 mail-in ballots from the four mentioned townships.
It was close to 11 p.m. election night when DFLer Joe Walsh, of Princeton, who was running against State Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, expressed frustration at the lack of vote tallies coming out of Mille Lacs County by that point.
As explained, the reason was because of the extra workload for the staff and equipment at the Mille Lacs auditor-treasurer’s office.
The office staff – Thompson and assistants, Tinklenberg, Nancy Eides, Tammie Gotvald, Karen Mathison, Lisa Sjodin-Heckenlaible took the extra late hours in stride, though fatigue could be seen on some of them, especially Thompson and Tinklenberg who stayed the latest.