Subpoenaed

Patty O'Connor

Patty O’Connor wasn’t surprised when the subpoena arrived Thursday, but the Blue Earth County election director was somewhat taken aback by the scope of the information demanded by the Norm Coleman campaign — and by the deadline for when it must be compiled.

“It took my breath away,” O’Connor said.

Among other items, the subpoena calls for copies of every absentee ballot application (there were over 2,500), all the envelopes that enclosed accepted absentee ballots, the rosters of registered voters and the Election Day registration applications (more than 9,000). And they are requiring it be provided by Wednesday morning.

“They want the world, and they want it by the 14th,” O’Connor said. “Which is about impossible. We’ll be working over the weekend.”

The documents will be used as part of Coleman’s lawsuit, which will be heard by a yet-to-be-named panel of three judges.

O’Connor said she believes she’s the only election director or auditor in the immediate area to be served, but she doesn’t expect to be the last. She heard of a few counties that were also served with subpoenas Thursday, including Nobles and Ramsey, and wondered if the first were aimed at places where Democrat Al Franken outpolled Coleman.

“It’s looking like wherever Franken won is where they’re going,” O’Connor said.

The only other area county where Franken prevailed was Nicollet, and Auditor Bridgette Kennedy hadn’t been subpoenaed as of mid-afternoon Friday.

“I haven’t gotten anything yet,” Kennedy said. “I’m so happy. ... I’m just breathing a sigh of relief.”

But she was feeling trepidation every time she checked her e-mail, knowing that a message from the Coleman campaign would likely mean another round of heavy work on a tight deadline for her and her staff.

In Watonwan County, where Coleman edged Franken by 85 votes out of about 5,300 cast in the Senate race, auditor Don Kuhlman was hoping the county’s small population might earn it a pass.

“Ours was kind of a toss-up, and we wouldn’t have a lot of votes down here,” Kuhlman said.

Watonwan County also didn’t have any wrongly rejected absentee ballots and had no absentee ballots on the Coleman campaign’s list of more than 600 the Republican former senator wants added to the recount.

O’Connor wondered if more subpoenas might be served next week when the Minnesota Association of County Officers holds its winter conference starting Tuesday at the Sheraton Hotel in Bloomington. She said that tactic was used during a past recount in Washington.

O’Connor has talked to the Coleman campaign to clarify the details of what they wanted and was assured that her county wouldn’t be alone.

“I just happened to be first,” she said. “I think it’s just because they like me so much.”

O’Connor laughed resignedly when talking about the latest turn in the long recount saga. The razor-thin result of the race — Franken had a 225 vote lead out of about 2.9 million ballots cast when the recount was completed last week — has repeatedly left local elections officials with numerous hours of additional work.

The cost of previous rounds of ballot-counting and absentee-ballot examining was borne largely by the taxpayers, but the lawsuit portion — officially called an election contest — can be charged to the losing campaign.

“This is going to cost a lot of money,” O’Connor said of the copy costs, the wages and the overtime premium that will accrue.

The labor charges, however, can only be at the hourly rate of the lowest-paid employee capable of performing the task, she said. So local taxpayers will still be subsidizing part of the wages.

In addition to accumulating and copying the thousands of pages of paperwork, staff will also need to blot out private information — such as voter dates of birth — that are on some of the documents.

O’Connor said she and four employees were working on the task Friday, six will work today and Monday.

“We may be able to pull if off,” she said of the Wednesday deadline, adding that they will seek an extension from the Coleman campaign if they can’t.

As of Friday afternoon, the Franken campaign hadn’t sought any additional documents from the county.

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