Democrats, Republicans and neutral observers chatted amiably with each other Monday morning as they prepared to certify the accuracy of the April 4 election.
Gathered in the Cole County Commission conference room, three members of each political party were tasked with manually recounting the ballots cast at three voting precincts across the county: Two were precincts from the random selection process and another to settle a tie on a ballot measure.
With the party members all ready and two observers watching the proceedings, Cole County Director of Elections Matt Musselman asked if there were any volunteers to randomly select a second precinct to recount.
The first precinct was selected on the evening of the election.
The Cole County Clerk's office decided to recount the votes from two precincts after a citizen complained one precinct wouldn't fulfill the state requirement that no less than 5 percent of precincts be recounted.
Following the complaint, the Missouri Secretary of State's office advised the clerk's office to select a second precinct.
Penelope Quigg, the chairwoman of the Cole County Republican Party suggested a reporter be the one to draw from the bowl of precincts.
Musselman picked up a plastic container filled with folded squares of blue paper, each with a number written on it, and held it out to a News Tribune reporter.
"You are now partially a part of the accuracy certification team," Musselman said, garnering laughs from the group.
The reporter reached into the container and pulled out a slip.
The number was 18.
"Okay, 18. Mr. Minihan, which one is that?" Musselman asked.
Thomas Minihan, the citizen who was concerned about the county not meeting state election regulations and one of the two observers, read from a list of precincts.
The number represented precinct 18, the Southridge Baptist Church polling location on Vieth Drive in Jefferson City.
With the precinct selected, the certification team gathered at the long conference table in the center of the room to get to work.
Quidd, Bob Coleman and Jefferson City Ward 1 Councilman-elect Jeff Ahlers represented the Cole County Republicans. Democrat Party chairman Susan Vaughn, Mary Schantz and Scott Randolph represented the Cole County Democrats.
Minihan and the other observer left after the random selection. Both the selection and the manual recount were open to the public.
The counters began by verifying a provisional ballot that was filed on Election Day. A provisional ballot is cast when a voter doesn't have a voter ID. The voter was still allowed to cast a ballot, but the counters had to match the voter's signature on the ballot with the one on the voter registration.
The provisional ballot was verified, and the votes were added to the county's total.
Then came the real task of the day: recounting the ballots.
The team had to manually recount the ballots from Southridge Baptist Church, St. Martins VFW Post 1003 and from Centertown Baptist Church.
The Centertown precinct wasn't randomly selected, but the voting machines showed a tie on Proposition P. Ties must be manually recounted.
The six counters went one precinct and one ballot issue at a time, dividing the ballots between themselves and counting the yeas, nays and candidates voted for.
Several times the counters had to recount the ballots more than once. If the number of votes they counted was different than what the voting machine reported, they had to account for the discrepancy.
If the margin of error was less than 0.5 percent, which typically meant the count was only off by one or two votes, the team could move on.
Anything more than that, 10 votes for example, and the team began sifting through the stacks of ballots again, recounting each vote to find the mistake.
Several times, the culprit behind the discrepancies was voter error. Some voters marked their ballots with an "X" instead of filling in a bubble, causing the voting machine to misread or not count the vote.
Mistakes like these are one of the reasons the certification team exists.
As the counters worked, County Clerk Steve Korsmeyer came into the conference room several times to check on the process. During one of his visits, Korsmeyer revealed the post-election testing on the voting machines had just been held across the street and said the machines worked perfectly.
The team chatted as they worked, discussing the various community boards they participated in.
Quigg ceaselessly typed away on a printing calculator.
The team licked their thumbs or dipped their fingertips in Sortkwik to keep their fingers moist as they turned through hundreds of ballots.
After a couple of hours, both randomly selected precincts had been manually recounted and their votes certified as accurate.
On Centertown's Proposition P, a measure that asked voters whether to implement a 1 percent use tax to match the town's existing sales tax, the certification team broke the tie that was initially reported.
An improperly marked ballot hadn't been read by the machine, causing the tie.
After the recount, the measure was voted down 23-22.
With the ballots recounted and accuracy ensured, the counters bundled up the ballots and returned them to Musselman and the clerk's office.
The story was updated Tuesday to correct the margin of error allowed when the mandatory recount is performed.