Update: Franson wins two-day recount

A two-day recount put Minnesota state Rep. Mary Franson 12 votes ahead of Bob Cunniff, sending her to a second term in the House.

There are not enough ballots in question to give Cunniff the lead, but the result is not official until the State Canvassing Board certifies it Tuesday. Cunniff conceded after Otter Tail County election workers finished their recount Thursday.

“The election proved yet again the importance of voting, and of making sure everyone’s votes are counted fairly and accurately,” Cunniff said.

He congratulated Franson.

“I believe the results of this election show that people of our district- and the state- would like to see more cooperation and compromise in St. Paul, and if there is anything I can do to help in that regard, I will be happy to lend a hand,” he said.

Franson, R-Alexandria, picked up one vote Thursday during the Otter Tail County recount in Fergus Falls. Franson and Cunniff, DFL-Alexandria, each gained a vote during Wednesday’s Douglas County recount.

Recounts in the two counties left Franson with the dozen-vote lead. Cunniff’s attorney challenged who should receive five votes, while Franson’s attorney challenged one over the two days.

Even if the state board agrees with all of Cunniff’s challenges, he would remain short of Franson, a freshman lawmaker who has been a lightning rod for welfare supporters.

The House District 8B race was a one-vote affair, with Franson in front, on election night.

Her lead increased to 11 when 35 ballots were randomly discarded last week after over-votes were found in three Alexandria precincts. A judge ordered the ballots withdrawn before the recount, as state law requires.

Cunniff won a majority of Franson’s home county, Douglas, but the incumbent carried Otter Tail.

Another recount is to end Friday for a state Senate seat south of the Twin Cities.

Update: Franson keeps 11-vote lead

Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press

Minnesota state Rep. Mary Franson maintained her 11-vote lead after election officials finished a state-ordered recount in Douglas County Wednesday.

The recount will switch to the other county in District 8B, Otter Tail, where ballots will be scrutinized Thursday.

After ballots from all 17 Douglas County precincts were recounted, Republican Franson and DFL challenger Bob Cunniff each picked up one vote.

When votes were tallied on election night, Franson held a one-vote lead. It increased to 11 when 35 ballots were randomly discarded last week after over-votes were found in three Alexandria precincts. A judge ordered the ballots to be withdrawn before the recount, as state law requires.

As was the case on election night, the recount showed Cunniff carrying most of Douglas County. He received 6,840 votes to Franson’s 5,843. Cunniff’s additional vote came from Ida Township while Franson picked up one more vote in Carlos Township.

Only two ballots were challenged. Cunniff challenged a ballot in Carlos Township and Franson questioned a ballot in Alexandria Ward 3. Those challenges will be sent on the State Canvassing Board to consider at its Dec. 4 meeting.

In past recounts, a number of ballots were the subject of arguments about voter intent. Such ballots could determine the outcome of races as close as in House District 8B.

Challenged ballots will be posted on the secretary of state’s Web site (www.sos.state.mn.us) when available.

State House race recount moves quickly

By Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press

A state-ordered recount is zipping right along in the race between Minnesota House 8B candidates, Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, and Bob Cunniff, DFL-Alexandria.

The process began in Douglas County this morning, with Otter Tail County election officials to work on it Thursday.

In Douglas County, the recount was moving along swiftly, according to election officials and attorneys for the candidates. They predicted that the results should be available this afternoon. Only a couple of ballots had been challenged by mid-day.

After the election, Franson held a one-vote lead. It increased to 11 when 35 ballots were randomly discarded last week after over-votes were found in three Alexandria precincts.

The State Canvassing Board on Tuesday approved rules governing the House District 8B recount and a state Senate recount south of the Twin Cities. The rules follow those in effect for the 2008 U.S. Senate and 2010 governor elections.

Representatives of the candidates may challenge election officials’ decisions about who should get each ballot. The state canvassing board will decide who, if anyone, receives votes from challenged ballots during its Dec. 4 meeting.

In past recounts, a number of ballots were the subject of arguments about voter intent. Such ballots could determine the outcome of races as close as in House District 8B, but in Douglas County there were not enough challenges to affect the election.

Challenged ballots will be posted on the secretary of state’s Web site (www.sos.state.mn.us) when available.

One recount is not enough

By Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press

Douglas County is recount central this year.

Political observers know about a state House recount, but there also will be one for the Douglas County Commissioner District 5 race between incumbent Dan Olson and Carol Wenner.

Olson appeared to be the winner on election night by an 18-vote margin, 1,534 to 1,516.

Then came the race for House District 8B between incumbent Republican Mary Franson and DFLer Bob Cunniff, which was even closer, with Franson winning by one vote.

When local election officials were certifying the results, they came across errors, a total of 35 over-votes, in three Alexandria polling places. Thirty-two of the over-votes occurred when voters were given the wrong ballot, allowing them to vote in the Franson-Cunniff race when they should have voted in the House District 12B race. The three other over-votes happened in Ward 3; the cause of that error is not known.

A judge ordered 35 ballots to be removed at random from the affected precincts to balance the number of votes, a procedure in state law. This padded Franson’s lead to 11, but the outcome is still close enough to trigger an automatic recount.

When the ballots were removed, results in other elections also were affected, including the commissioner race because it includes two of the polling places where over-votes were found.

The new totals put Olson ahead by 20 votes, 1,531 to 1,511. There were 17 write-in votes.

The Douglas County auditor’s office received a written request to re-count the commissioner ballots.

This commissioner recount will take place Dec. 7. The House recount begins Wednesday and the State Canvassing Board is to certify a winner Dec. 4.

Two state legislative recounts begin Wednesday

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Christopher Dietzen draws a slip of paper out of a fish bowl Tuesday, naming a precinct elections officials will double-check for election returns accuracy. He sits on the State Canvassing Board, which certified most election winners.

A hand recount of 21,288 votes in a state House race begins Wednesday.

So does one in a state Senate race.

Douglas County officials begin the House recount work at 8:30 a.m. in the courthouse in Alexandria. In Otter Tail County, the recount begins at 9 a.m. Thursday in Fergus Falls.

The State Canvassing Board on Tuesday approved rules governing the House District 8B recount, as well as a state Senate recount south of the Twin Cities. Rules follow those in effect for the 2008 U.S. Senate and 2010 governor elections.

House District 8B is the tightest legislative race. Republican Rep. Mary Franson leads Democratic challenger Bob Cunniff by 11 votes. Franson’s lead earlier was a single vote, but it expanded after mistakes were found that forced election officials to withdraw 35 ballots last week.

In Senate District 20, Democrat Kevin Dahle leads Republican Mike Dudley by 78 votes. That district is in LeSueur, Rice and Scott counties.

Results from both recounts are due back to the State Canvassing Board before Dec. 4.

The board-approved rules require county officials to set aside space for the public to watch recounting.

“Cell phones and video cameras may be used in the public viewing areas, as long as their use is not disruptive,” the rules read.

Representatives of the candidates will be allowed to challenge election officials’ decisions about who should get each ballot. The canvassing board would decide who, if anyone, receives votes from challenged ballots during its Dec. 4 meeting.

In past recounts, a number of ballots were the subject of arguments about voter intent. Such ballots could determine the outcome of races as close as in House District 8B.

Challenged ballots will be posted on the secretary of state’s Web site (www.sos.state.mn.us) when available.

While the two recounts are important in their districts, they will not determine the balance of legislative power. Democrats won enough seats on Nov. 6 to control both legislative chambers.

Minnesota’s Nov. 6 election produced a record turnout.

More than 76 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, best in the country, but the state’s top election official says even more would participate if they could vote early.

In this year’s election, 2,950,780 Minnesotans voted. That is the most ever, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said, and while final numbers are not in he said that he is sure it is the most in the country.

“We’re No. 1 by many,” he said.

Ritchie’s comments came after the State Canvassing Board approved returns from Nov. 6 voting. Only minor changes were reported from returns posted soon after the election.

Ritchie said he thinks young people helped boost the number of voters, but has seen no reports to back that up. This year’s election attracted more than 30,000 more voters than four years ago, state Elections Director Gary Poser said.

Allowing Minnesotans to vote early would help even more, he said. However, he added, since the state already leads the country in turnout, increased numbers would be modest.

Voting has increased in the few rural voting precincts where mail-in voting is allowed, Ritchie said.

Minnesota does not allow general early voting. It does allow absentee votes, in cases such as when a voter would be out of the precinct on Election Day.

Ritchie said he would not produce an early-voting plan, calling that a legislative duty. However, he does plan to meet with Senate election leader Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, in coming days.

Another election issue Ritchie said should be handled is what to do if a disaster hits on or near Election Day.

“We need a plan,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie pointed out problems like Hurricane Sandy produced in the northeastern United States when it hit just before the election. There also was the infamous Halloween blizzard of 1991 that stopped activity in much of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

State Elections Director Gary Poser

Update: Republicans like judge’s decision in close legislative race

By Al Edenloff and Don Davis

Republicans think a judge’s Tuesday decision gives them an advantage to winning a tight Minnesota legislative election headed to a recount.

A Douglas County judge approved a request by Rep. Marry Franson, R-Alexandria, to randomly remove 35 ballots before the recount to fix Election Day mistakes.

House Minority Leader-elect Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the ballots to be removed come from precincts in which Democrat Bob Cunniff did well, which means chances are that he could lose votes.

After Election Day, freshman lawmaker Franson led by a single vote in unofficial returns. The ballots are to be removed Wednesday and the State Canvassing Board is to convene next week and order a recount if the winning margin remains within a half percentage point.

Judge David Battey’s order, coming hours after a hearing on the case, said there were errors in the election and state law requires the removal of ballots.

“While the remedy in this situation may not be the ideal solution to the problem, the court notes that it has limited options,” Battey wrote.

When Douglas County election officials examined returns last week to prepare for a recount, they found that 32 voters in two Alexandria wards 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 another ward there were three more ballots cast than signatures on the voting roster.

Franson petitioned the court to order that 35 ballots be removed at random. She asked, and Battey granted, that ballots be removed from specific precincts.

Franson and her attorney, Reid LeBeau, requested the court to get involved because they believe the Douglas County Canvassing Board lacked authority to correct the errors.

“Simply put, there were more votes than voters in three precincts in the city of Alexandria,” LeBeau said.

Cunniff, however, said state law does not apply to the Douglas County situation. His paperwork filed with the court says that votes should not be taken away “simply because an election judge mistakenly provides a voter with the wrong ballot.”

The Democrat sought another remedy that would be determined by a contested election board, perhaps taking actions such as inspecting the ballots, conducting a new election in the affected wards and examining the absentee ballots.

“It’s not appropriate to randomly draw from both valid and invalid ballots,” Cunniff attorney David Zoll told Battey.

When asked for Douglas County’s insights into the matter, County Attorney Chad Larson told Battey that upon discovering the errors, the county’s goal has been to make the remedy process transparent and open to the public.

Rather than certifying the results or randomly throwing out ballots to reconcile the over-votes as outlined in state law, the county wanted to bring the matter before a judge where both candidates could state their case, Larson said.

Daudt said the law is plain.

“The law is pretty clear and obviously there was an overvote in this area,” Daudt said. “There were more ballots in the ballot box than there were voters.”

Judge considers how to fix legislative race ballot problems

By Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press

A Douglas County judge is expected to issue a ruling later today telling elections officials how to fix a case in which some voters were given the wrong ballots on Election Day.

His decision is critical to the outcome of a state legislative race that has Republican Rep. Mary Franson leading Democratic challenger Bob Cunniff by a single vote.

If Cunniff gets his way, some voters might need to cast new ballots.

This morning, Judge David Battey heard from attorneys for Franson and Cunniff. His decision was expected today because the Douglas County Canvassing Board is to meet tomorrow.

Franson requested the court get involved because she believes the local canvassing board lacks authority to correct errors made in the election.

The first-term representative wants 35 votes pulled at random from the precincts where there was an overvote, saying that is the proper remedy under state law.

Cunniff’s attorney argued that the error was not just a counting and recording error, but involved procedural errors made by the election judges by giving ballots to people who should not have been voting in the Franson-Cunniff race.

The Democrat wants another remedy that would be determined by a contested election board, perhaps taking actions such as inspecting the ballots, conducting a new election in the affected wards and examining the absentee ballots.

A hearing had been scheduled for Monday, but the judge assigned to the case recused herself because of a tie to Cunniff.

When Douglas County election officials examined returns 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 Franson appeared to have won the election 10,652 to 10,651 in unofficial returns.

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.