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041119-wsj-news-mcfarland

McFarland Village Administrator Matt Schuenke and Clerk Cassandra Suettinger attributed confusion over the results in the race for village president to human error. One absentee ballot was overlooked, and one voter was likely given a ballot before election officials could issue the person a voter number.

The razor-thin victory for McFarland village president became just a hair thicker as a previously lost absentee ballot was counted Wednesday morning.

The ballot was cast for incumbent Brad Czebotar, according to canvassers, bringing the total number of votes for him to 1,188 — just two more than challenger Carolyn Clow, who received 1,186.

McFarland village staff found the unopened absentee ballot Monday morning in a bin used to store and transfer absentee ballots in last week’s election and subsequent recount, Village Administrator Matthew Schuenke said.

That absentee ballot was still sealed within an unopened envelope when found, Schuenke said. Canvassers Wednesday determined the absentee ballot was valid and should be counted.

Village Clerk Cassandra Suettinger said a mistake was made when the vote wasn’t counted, but the system of checks and balances in the canvassing process ensured that voters were heard.

“I think the message here is that every vote counts,” Suettinger said. “When there is a mistake, you can’t hide from it.”

The canvassers also found another error, Schuenke said. Once the canvassers determined that the absentee ballot should be counted, the number of voters recorded as having cast a ballot and the actual number of ballots was off by one.

That meant someone voted without being given a voter number, Schuenke said. Although he said there is no definitive answer, Schuenke said the most likely cause of the discrepancy was that a voter was mistakenly given a ballot before election officials could complete the confirmation and issue the poll number.

“The truth is that it was human error,” Suettinger said. She also noted that election officials are volunteers from the community.

Schuenke said the canvassers had the choice to either leave the number on the poll list and the number of ballots uneven, or they could remove a blank ballot to make the number the same.

“Given that we had a blank ballot that was cast, this ballot was removed so the number of ballots and number of voters were even without changing any outcomes,” Schuenke said.

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Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.