Judge steps aside in Franson-Cunniff election hearing

By Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press

A hearing in Douglas County District Court involving the pending recount between state Rep. Mary Franson and Bob Cunniff in the race for Minnesota House District 8B has been delayed a day.

When Douglas County election officials were going over the canvassing results last week to prepare for the recount, they noticed that 32 voters in Alexandria Wards 1 and 5 were given ballots that allowed them to vote in the Franson-Cunniff race when they were supposed to be voting in the neighboring House District 12B race. In addition, in Alexandria Ward 3, there were three more ballots cast than there were signatures on the voting roster.

Those 35 votes could loom large since Republican Franson, a first-term legislator, won the election by a one vote, 10,652 to 10,651 over Democrat Cunniff.

The local canvassing board notified each candidate that an “obvious error” had occurred and that the board planned to follow state law to reconcile the ballots, which calls for 35 ballots to be drawn at random from the affected polling places and pulled out of the results.

Franson’s attorney, Reid LeBeau, requested the matter to be heard in front of a judge.

On Monday, the judge assigned to the case, Ann Carrott, recused herself immediately after opening the hearing, which was attended by Franson, LeBeau, Cunniff’s attorney (via telephone) and Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson.

Carrott noted that she is a voter in Alexandria Ward 5, knows Cunniff personally and her husband actively supported Cunniff’s candidacy. As a judge, Carrott did not campaign for any candidate but she said she wanted to step away from the case to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

A hearing with Judge David Battey is expected to take place Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the recount is scheduled to start on Nov. 28, pending a review by the state’s canvassing board a day earlier. The recount, which will take place in both Douglas and Otter Tail counties, is expected to take several days.