Otter Tail Auditor’s office oversaw recount of 25,424 sheriff election ballots

The November election count for Otter Tail County Sheriff was within eight votes. A request for a recount was initiated and the recount process was scheduled for December 3.

Otter Tail County’s new sheriff, Barry Fitzgibbons, whose narrow victory was confirmed in a recount of the November 2018 ballots. A total of 25,424 votes were cast across the County-Fergus Falls Police Chief Kile Bergren, was edged by only eight votes.

 The recount was overseen by Otter Tail County Auditor-Treasurer Wayne Stein.

 On November 13, the election canvassing board met in Otter Tail County and certified the election results. According to the Secretary of State’s statutes a “losing candidate to a county office may request a publicly funded recount of the votes if less than one-half of one percent of the total votes, or if there are more than 400 but less than 50,000 votes cast for the office.” 

The local election for sheriff fell within this threshold. Though the vote difference was only eight votes an automatic recount was not required. Instead, a written request for a publicly funded recount by the candidate had to be filed with the auditor’s office. No action could take place until after the canvassing board had certified the election. 

The recount of the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s race was conducted by the County Auditor at the Government Services Center in Fergus Falls. Otter Tail County precincts were recounted beginning December 3 at 9 a.m. 

Eight recount tables were set up with three volunteer judges at each table. Each candidate was invited to have one representative at each table. Election judges and county staff were the only people allowed to handle the ballots. The recount was open to the public. 

Ballots were brought to the room with four representatives in attendance as the ballots were moved from the secured location in the Government Services Center to the board room. Judges were asked to place the ballots in three piles. The ballots were counted aloud by a judge and placed in stacks of twenty-five. The totals were reported to an Auditor’s Office official and recorded. The recount continued through the day.

Doris Hovland volunteered her service to pay back others who served on the recount for her husband who ran for the county board of commissioners in 1974. According to Mrs. Hovland, Bert Hovland ran for Otter Tail Commissioner, District 2, in 1974 and tied with his opponent. 

“The two were invited to the courthouse and a coin was flipped to determine who lost and therefore had to ask for the recount.”  

Bert Hovland won the recount and served four terms as county commissioner. In 1990, he lost in the primaries by 16 votes.

Wayne Stein said, “The process is working well.” He answered questions and oversaw the process throughout the day.

On Tuesday, December 4 the unofficial results of the recount were given by Stein. 

Barry Fitzgibbons won the recount for Otter Tail County Sheriff with 12,716 votes to Kile Bergren’s 12,708 votes. The Election Canvassing Board met December 5. 

The election will be certified after seven days.

 Fitzgibbons will begin his duties as Otter Tail County’s new Sheriff January 7, 2019.