The recount for the contested race for the final seat on the Ward County commission was finished Wednesday, and not only did Shelly Weppler retain her win, but she picked up an extra vote in the recount.
"Drum roll, please," said a ballot counter as the computer confirmed the final vote tally. The numbers were 11,161 votes for Weppler and 11,079 votes for Jim Lee. This 82 vote difference was up one vote from the 81 vote difference before the recount. The election night difference, before some absentee ballots were counted, was 74 votes.
The recount began at 8 a.m. Monday and finished Wednesday afternoon. The process was intensive as it required a visual inspection by offical ballot counters instead of feeding it through a machine as the ballots were on election day. Questionable ballots, which consisted of ballots with stray or erroneous marks or absentee ballots missing signatures, were collected and handed off to a three-person committee that included John Fjeldahl, commissioner chairman. The committee inspected the questionable ballots to see if they would be admitted or rejected.
Some were readmitted because the human eye can detect voter intent the way a machine can not. For example, since voters were only to pick three of five candidates a voter may have accidentally selected four candidates and made an "x" over one of them. It would be obvious that the voter had intended the three votes without an x to be the votes that were wanted, explained a committee member.
Others were rejected on the grounds that errors did not show a voter's true intent or had not properly filled out an absentee ballot. About 13 of the more than 30 questionable ballots were readmitted.
Weppler officially joins former Minot public works director Alan Walter and incumbent commissioner Jack Nybakken in the three seats that were up for grabs in the general election.
"It was a close race and the challenger put in a good effort," Weppler said. "I'm very thankful to live in a country where the process can be challenged."
Weppler is excited to attend her first commissioners meeting, and she hopes she can gain the trust and confidence of those who did not vote for her.
"It is what it is," said Lee, who was out of the area for Thanksgiving vacation, of the results. Lee had served for 24 years, off and on, in the Ward County Commission, including five separate stints as chairman.
"What really amazed me, something I hadn't looked at before, is that these are at-large positions" where voters can vote for up to three of the five candidates seeking seats on the ballot, Lee said. He mentioned this because he hadn't thought he would run in this race in the first place, but was asked to do so by some supporters. So, he reasoned, many of those who had wanted him to run may have voted for both he and Weppler since they were just two in a pool seeking multiple chairs and were not directly pitted against one another.
On the prospect of running again, Lee, a semi-retired farmer, said that "at the present time I don't think it's in my future."
But added, with a laugh, "you never say never."