From the editor: County election results come slowly but surely; push needed to bring timliness in line with neighboring counties to the east

The folks gathered around the Elk River Area School District’s board room table on election night with a glass bowl at the center of it to collect handwritten predictions.

They weren’t on the success or failure of the school bond and levy referendums, which were approved with flying colors. It wasn’t even the race between incumbent Shane Steinbrecher and challenger Larry Farber.

The question at play in the board room was what time would the first Sherburne County election result be posted to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website.

Sherburne and Wright counties are notorious for being among the last counties in Minnesota to report results to the state, and true to form this year, they were among the last three counties out of 87 to begin reporting their results to the state.

School district administrators, some members of the Community for Kids group that sought a “yes” vote and one Elk River Area School Board Member played the famous name game, watched comedians via YouTube videos projected on a wall and grazed on cold pizza while checking intermittently on election results when new vote totals were noticed on smartphones gathered around the table.

The lion’s share of the results — Elk River’s and Otsego’s in particular — would not be posted until after midnight, which meant a long night for those that decided to stick it out. By the time the result of the bond and levy were in it was 12:30 a.m. on Nov. 5. So when it finally became time to celebrate, most had gone home.

District 728 officials had a lot to celebrate, especially given the broad support it found at the polls for a $5.9 million operating levy and a $98 million bond referendum.  With the exception of one Elk River precinct on Question 2, all precincts in four largest communities (Elk River, Rogers, Otsego, Zimmerman) of the district supported both questions.

One long-time administrator suggested that hadn’t ever happened in his nearly 30 years here in the district. It might not have happened in the 30 years prior to that either because most of the facilities were in one town.

District 728 officials should find a time to properly celebrate this monumental vote. It’s a sign the Elk River Area School District has pulled together and is focused on bettering educational opportunities for all parts of the school district.

First results

Among the first results locally on the bond and levy came from the state’s most populous counties of Anoka and Hennepin. Rogers results, for instance, came in during the 9 o’clock hour.

Anoka County had all of its results in by about 10:30 p.m. according to a news editor stationed in Coon Rapids.

So what gives?

It’s technology and the feasibility of its use.

After initial talks with county auditors in Sherburne, Anoka and Hennepin counties, it’s clear the big difference is Anoka and Hennepin have gone to wireless modems, thanks in large part to Help America Vote Act of 2002, and continued financial support at the local and county level.

The act got those two counties going in this direction and technological advances since have only made their processes even faster and more accurate.

The city of Anoka, for instance, started reporting its precinct results at 8:02 p.m. on election night. The last precinct sent its results at 8:10 p.m. Rogers, located in Hennepin County, was also quick.

That gives the county plenty of time to merge the results of absentee ballots and get the results posted up on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Web page.

I would encourage the county boards in Sherburne and Wright counties get behind the Minnesota Association of County Officers to push for a Help Minnesota Vote Act.

Sherburne County Auditor Diane Arnold has worked with precincts throughout the county to check into the feasibility of electronically submitting results from the precincts, but she has found many barriers ranging from a lack of access to phone lines as well as a lack of cellular towers and tin roofs ill-suited for such efforts. There are a host of other barriers.

Some may miss the nostalgia of waiting up all night for results to come in on election night, listening to WCCO Radio and being the first to know. But with results coming in so quickly in places around the state, the charm of nostalgia flies out the door.

Technology has helped improve not only the accuracy of tabulating votes, but also the speed. It’s time for technology to bring the speed of reporting results for Sherburne and Wright counties in line with its neighboring counties.

Without new and improved vote tabulating technologies, I would encourage District 728 folks to plan a potluck on the night of the next election with a bond and or levy referendum with even more games. Maybe there would be enough people to be around to celebrate a victory or commiserate in defeat.

With new technology, those same officials would have to find another date for a game night. — Jim Boyle, Editor