Electoral College a learning experience

Moren, left, votes

Joe Moren taught high school students about the Electoral College for 40 years, but he really came to understand it Monday when he cast a vote for Barack Obama.

The 82-year-old Hibbing man, one of Minnesota’s 10 electors, has been active in Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party politics most of his life, but usually not in the spotlight, saying: “I enjoyed being a king-maker rather than a king.”

When he cast his vote Monday, he became the ultimate “king maker” along with 534 other electors around the country. They decided, officially, that Obama was re-elected.

Lil Ortendahl of Osakis watched as Moren and others voted for Obama. She was there herself a few years ago, but on Monday was on standby as an alternate elector.

The Electoral College “is important for democracy and everyone feels part of the government,” she said after a formal hour-long ceremony in the Minnesota state Capitol.

While the Electoral College is part of the country’s election process, Ortendahl and others wonder if it would be better to make presidential elections better reflect the voters.

The U.S. Constitution established the institution, with one elector for each member of a state’s congressional delegation. While it did not happen this year, it is possible that a candidate who gets the most popular votes can lose in the Electoral College.

Each party picks electors, and in Minnesota all electoral votes go to the candidate who wins.

Being an elector is an honor for party loyalists.

Gov. Mark Dayton told those gathered to see the Electoral College vote in the state Capitol rotunda that the American system is an example for the world, as despite campaigns coming from opposite political sides, the turnover of power always is peaceful.

Moren agreed, citing countries like Syria, where it may take violence to change leaders.

As a teacher in Wisconsin for five years and 35 years in Hibbing, Moren taught about the Electoral College from a textbook. But, he said, it took on more meaning when he took part.

The teacher in him led to a minor issue Monday. When he was given the first ballot, it listed both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, so as a teacher he followed instructions and voted for both. However, the ballot was supposed to be just for president, so his first effort was tossed out and he cast his real vote on a second ballot, one which is headed to the National Archives.

While Ortendahl said she was proud to be part of the process, “I have a little trouble with it.”

Minnesota’s winner-take-all system is not fair, said the woman who has been involved in politics for 45 years. If the popular vote is divided, the Electoral College vote should be, too, she said.

The U.S. Constitution leaves it up to states to decide such details.

State legislators from both major parties told reporters before the Electoral College met that the institution should be changed, saying the current system gives some states more power than others.

“The state of Minnesota is not responsible for preserving the political power of voters in Ohio, Florida and a shrinking number of battleground states,” Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said.

He is part of a movement known as National Popular Vote that is pushing a bill to require electoral votes to be granted based on popular vote.

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Minnesota vote for president and vice president:

– Barack Obama and Joe Biden, Democratic Party, 1,546,167 (52.65  percent)

– Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, Republican Party, 1,320,225 (44.96 percent)

– Gary Johnson and Jim Gray, Libertarian Party, 35,098 (1.20 percent)

– Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, Green Party, 13,023 (0.44 percent)

– Virgil Goode and Jim Clymer, Constitution Party, 3,722 (0.13 percent)

– Jim Carlson and George McMahon, Grassroots Party, 3,149 (0.11 percent)

– Ross C. “Rocky” Anderson and Luis J. Rodriguez, Justice Party, 1,996 (0.07 percent)

– Dean Morstad and Josh Franke-Hyland, constitutional government, 1,092 (0.04 percent)

– James Harris and Maura Duluca, Socialist Workers Party, 1,051 (0.04 percent)

– Peta Lindsay and Yari Osorio, socialism and liberation, 397 (0.01 percent)

– Write-in candidates, 10,641 (0.36 percent)

In Duluth case, court says voters entitled to accurate ballot

Voters should have an accurate ballot, the Minnesota Supreme Court said Tuesday in releasing its reason for switching candidates in a Duluth legislative race.

“Given the paramount interests of voters, who are entitled to a ballot that accurately identifies the candidates actually running for office,” high court justices wrote, it was only fair to replace Rep. Kerry Gauthier’s name with that of Erik Simonson.

The Tuesday opinion on the state House 7B race backs up a brief ruling the court handed down on Sept. 25.

In July, Democrat Gauthier and a teen-age boy had a sexual encounter in a Duluth-area rest stop. The Duluth News Tribune revealed the incident nearly a month later, setting in motion public discussions that eventually led to Gauthier trying to withdraw from the race and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party nominating Simonson to replace him.

Simonson won the Nov. 6 election and takes office early next month.

The Supreme Court delivered its ruling Sept. 25 so voters would know far enough in advance about the change, delaying release of the opinion with its reasoning until Tuesday.

The court criticized St. Louis County Auditor Don Dicklich for not accepting Gauthier’s withdrawal.

“Based on its wording and grammatical structure, this (state law) provision indicates that both partisan and nonpartisan candidates can create a vacancy in nomination in two ways — by dying or by filing an affidavit of withdrawal,” the unsigned Supreme Court opinion said.

Dicklich and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie had argued that under Minnesota law September was months too late for a legislative candidate to withdraw.

“We further hold that the county auditor erred when he rejected the affidavit of withdrawal that Gauthier attempted to file,” the court said.

The court said the Ritchie and Dicklich “interpretation has the potential to lead to an absurd result.” For example, the court said, there could be multiple elections for a seat because if a candidate is not allowed to withdraw, “a special election immediately becomes necessary to allow voters to once again choose their elected representative.”

The court backed the DFL and Simonson claim that they acted quickly to replace Gauthier.

“They contend that at most less than one week elapsed between the date on which Gauthier submitted his affidavit of withdrawal (Sept. 6) and the date on which petitioners sought relief in this court (Sept. 10),” the court opinion said. “On this point, petitioners are correct.”

The court also said that Gauthier attempted to follow the law to withdraw from the race: “Gauthier filed his affidavit more than 16 days before the general election, and he filed it with the county auditor. The DFL then attempted to file a certificate of nomination naming Simonson as the party’s newly  nominated candidate for District 7B.”

State laws give major political parties have the authority to fill a vacancy, the court said.

State board approves Franson, Dahle recount victories

Justice Christopher Dietzen signs election certificate

The State Canvassing Board certified the winners of two legislative election recounts during a brief Tuesday meeting.

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, won by 12 votes over Democrat Bob Cunniff in the closest legislative race. Democrat Kevin Dahle heads to the Senate after the board certified his 71-vote win over Republican Mike Dudley in their district south of the Twin Cities.

The four candidates dropped challenges they had made during the recounts, so the state board did not need to rule on who would be awarded the votes. There were not enough challenges to affect either race.

On election night, Franson led Cunniff by a single vote, but some polling place errors forced election officials to remove 35 ballots, which gave her an 11-vote lead. She picked up two more votes and Cunniff one more in the recount in Douglas and Otter Tail counties.

State Election Director Gary Poser said the recount results did not match election night totals because when people do not mark ballots properly machines cannot correctly register their intent.

Both recounts were triggered because the returns fell within a half of 1 percent, the margin set by state law. The state paid for the hand recount of each ballot in the two districts.

The canvassing board consists of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, two Supreme Court justices and two district court judges.

Red Lake dependable Democratic

Michael Meuers wonders if any community supported President Barack Obama more than his.

Almost 98 percent of voters on the northwestern Minnesota Red Lake American Indian reservation favored Obama on Nov. 6.

“In the traditional community of Ponemah, Obama scored with 99.23 percent of the vote,” Meuers said. “Romney got one vote (Libertarian, two).”

The news was not all bright for Democrats, Meuers said tongue in cheek: “Unfortunately, other DFLers, Collin Peterson, Amy Klobuchar, Roger Erickson and Rod Skoe only got 93 to 96 percent of the vote. We apologize for that and will keep working at it. We’re trying to locate and persuade those Republicans, but they must have a good hiding place.”

Meuers helped create Red Lake Political Education Committee in 1996 and is its only non-Indian member.

“Bottom line, I believe Red Lake Nation to be the most dependable community of its size in the state and perhaps the country as far as Democrat reliability,” he said.

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.