You asked: Numbered ballots in Shell River Township draws concern

A voter had concerns that the election staff were attempting to track who voted and how.

Voters hit the polls on Nov. 8, 2022.
Erica Dischino / Forum News Service
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WADENA — One local voter in Wadena County’s Shell River Township – population 287 – noticed something on his general election ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 8, that caught his eye. There are two spots on the upper right corner of every ballot with election judge initials that indicate that the judges have the right quantity of ballots at the start of the day. They then check that they still have that number at the end of the day. What the voter noticed was a number also on the ballot.

“I noticed today that there was an additional marking, which was a number,” he said. “That is not supposed to be there.”

He discovered that the number on the ballot was the same as the number on the receipt he received and handed to a judge in order to get his ballot.

“Therefore the ballot is traceable back to the voter,” he said. “It’s supposed to be a secret ballot.”

Concerned by this discovery, he questioned the election judges then called the county election’s office. He was apparently told by election staff that the number should not be there and that they would see that the ballots are not compromised or if need be, they may have to copy the votes over to new ballots to ensure they are counted correctly, in case the machines do not count them because of the added number. That too concerned the voter.


Find all of our coverage of the 2022 election here

According to the election judge guide, which is lengthy, after counting the ballots, two judges must write their initials on each ballot that will be given to a voter. They are not to make any other marks on the ballot. Any two judges may perform this task— judges from two different major parties are not required, the guide explains.

Wadena County Auditor Heather Olson said the man’s concern about the markings was legitimate as that is not the method to use to track quantities. He was allowed to watch the process they took to ensure that the votes were counted and handled confidentially when they came sealed to the Wadena County Courthouse.

“They brought them down to us, we unsealed the envelopes, we counted them then, and we resealed them up and they are now behind lock and key,” Olson explained.

“At the end of the day those tic numbers had no effect on anything,” Olson added.

Had the hand-written number been larger, it may have affected the electronic machines accepting those ballots.

Olson said the concerned resident walked away satisfied with the secure process that they used to handle the situation.

“He was comfortable with the decisions being made,” Olson said.

Olson explained that the intentions of the election staff at Shell River were not to track or identify identities of voters, rather it was in order to track how many ballots were used, to keep a balance on ballots.


As election judges become harder to find, it's nice to know there are some who wouldn't dare miss the big day.

“That was not something we were going to allow, they were not given the opportunity to do that nor do I believe that they would have. The number was for balancing purposes only,” Olson explained.

Olson was otherwise pleased with how smoothly the election went.

Out of 8,371 registered voters, 6,019 came out in a county of an estimated 14,177 (2021) residents. The county was able to report all results by 11:10 p.m.

While there were at times lines formed for those looking to cast a ballot, there were very few having to wait more than a few minutes to vote.

Canvassing of the election results takes place Monday, Nov. 14.

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in the city of Verndale, Minn., but is bent on making it as country as he can until he returns once more to the farm living he enjoys. Also living the dream are his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at or 218-640-2312.
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